VerHagen passes test in big jam
Brad Ausmus has seen plenty of relievers in seventh-inning jams this season. He had not seen Drew VerHagen, who had pitched in close games but not with a lead in the balance in the seventh inning or later. His first chance at a hold was a big one, at least in terms of leverage.
With the bases loaded, one out in the seventh inning and Miguel Sano due up in a 4-1 game, Ausmus had VerHagen ready with the idea of giving a chance. He had veterans Al Alburquerque and Neftali Feliz available, but he went with the rookie. In most any other Tigers September, he doesn’t get the chance. With Detroit in a situation to look toward the future, especially in the bullpen, it was the right time.
For a converted starter who has admittedly thrived on the adrenaline of relief situations, it was a nice test.
“I’d say a little bit, with the game being close and bases loaded,” VerHagen said. “But I was just trying to keep it simple, hopefully get a ground ball. … Keep doing what I’ve been doing, pounding my fastball down in the zone.”
His first-pitch curveball up and in had Ausmus a little worried, but he gathered himself, got two ground balls and got two outs. He also gave up two runs. Those came on the first ground ball, a Miguel Sano shot that passed just to Nick Castellanos’ left-hand side for a two-run single, drawing Minnesota within a run and putting the potential tying tally at second base.
It was a hard-luck tally for a pitch VerHagen executed. Then again, considering what Sano has done with other fastballs this season when ahead in the count, it could’ve been much worse.
“I feel like I made a good pitch and the result wasn’t exactly what I wanted,” VerHagen said, “but I couldn’t really control the result. So I just got back up there and I knew my defense would have my back, and I did the same thing.”
The recovery process, he said, was quick.
“I wasn’t really too worked up because I knew we still had the lead,” he said. “We had a one-run lead and I needed to make a pitch and get out of the inning.”
This time, it was Trevor Plouffe. Again, VerHagen got into a 2-1 count. Again, he executed a 94 mph fastball and induced a ground ball. This time, it went to shortstop Andrew Romine, starting an inning-ending double play.
Thus, two days after VerHagen earned his first Major League win, he converted his first save situation into his first hold. Time will tell what it means, especially for next season. But with Detroit’s relief corps due for a makeover, the Tigers can do all of it with free-agent signings and trades. At some point, they’re going to need options from within the organization, something they’ve struggled to produce over the years. If VerHagen can fill a middle relief role, it would be one less role Detroit would have to shop to fill.
The bigger test, of course, would be closing, and Bruce Rondon got that when his two-run lead became one with a Joe Mauer RBI double putting the potential tying run at second base. He threw 17 consecutive fastballs to start the outing, and 32 in a row counting Monday night, before throwing three sliders to Sano, who took the first and went down swinging at the last two.