Verlander throws 5 2/3 solid innings in rehab start

Justin Verlander looked like he was ready for the big leagues in his second rehab start for Triple-A Toledo, where he struck out nine batters over 5 2/3 innings with an unearned run allowed.

While Verlander’s top velocity registered a tick down on the Fifth Third Field radar gun compared to his first rehab start last Sunday at Indianapolis, his command and his secondary pitches were markedly improved. He retired 10 consecutive batters after Indians prospect Francisco Lindor’s single leading off the game, and sent a Columbus lineup swinging and missing at 17 of his 93 total pitches. He threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 21 batters.

Verlander topped out at 94 miles an hour on his fastball, and sat at 91-92. He stopped short of saying his next pitches would take place in Detroit, but indicated he had accomplished what he wanted.

“I feel like today was the step I wanted to see,” Verlander said afterward. “The biggest thing was getting my pitch count up and also getting some innings, not just three innings but getting up and down a few times.”

Control was much better today. I felt like for the most part, I was able to hit my spots and get ahead of guys and execute my pitches much better.

After lasting just 2 2/3 innings over 79 pitches last Sunday at Indianapolis, Verlander churned through innings after ending his opening frame with a 10-pitch battle and a strikeout-throwout double play. He had an eight-pitch, eight-strike third inning that featured an even split of fastballs and offspeed pitches.

“He looked like he was searching for it a little bit in the first,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said, “and then he dropped a 3-2 breaking ball in there for strike three, [catcher Miguel Gonzalez] threw the guy out, and then after that he was spot-on.”

Among Verlander’s strikeout victims was Lindor, one of baseball’s top prospects. After leading off the game with a single, he fanned on a Verlander slider in the fourth inning before fanning on a nasty breaking ball inside in the sixth as Verlander neared his pitch count of 90.

A few pitches later, Verlander showed his Major League form when he bargained Parrish into letting him face an extra hitter.

“He asked if I can get [Jesus Aguilar] out in three pitches, and I said yeah,” Verlander said. “I threw four or five and then told [Gonzalez] we have to go right down the middle, throw one down the middle and hope to get an out. Didn’t get an out, gave up a double, but I didn’t want to end up in another 10-pitch at-bat and throw 95-96 [pitches]. That wouldn’t make LP look good either. So here it is, hit it.”

Aguilar hit a fastball to the fence in left-center for a double on Verlander’s 93rd pitch. Neither Verlander nor Parrish sweated it.

“It’s not my call, but he looked like he was ready today,” Parrish said. “Indy, no. Today, yeah.”

Technically, the Tigers don’t have to make that call for a while. They’re off Monday and Thursday next week, so they could go without a fifth starter for a week. More likely, they could slot him in for next weekend’s series against the Indians at Comerica Park, Friday or Saturday depending on whether they would want to give David Price more rest following his complete game tonight in Chicago.

Regardless, his time in Toledo is likely to be a brief stop. Still, it was memorable. The combination of his start and several promotions, from the Jurassic World uniforms to the Mud Hens’ annual scout sleepover, and the attendance of 13,300 set a new Fifth Third Field record. The Hens auctioned off the themed jerseys after the game; Verlander’s jersey raised $2300 for charity, according to the team. The previous record, according to John Wagner of the Toledo Blade, was $600.

“The jersey’s pretty cool,” Verlander said after his outing. “I don’t think I’ll bid on it, but maybe I’ll get them to make a replica or something.”

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