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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Verlander struggles with fastball command. 'It's not an alarm. It happens to everybody'

DETROIT — Big letdown to go from flirting with a no-hitter to flirting with disaster.

It was just not Justin Verlander’s night Saturday, as he had one of his shortest outings in three seasons, and couldn’t harness his fastball to save his life.

“A battle. My fastball control wasn’t there at all,” Verlander said. "I felt like when I needed to make a pitch, my fastball just totally evaded me. ...

“Every time I tried to go arm-side, I would pull back to the middle of the plate. Every time I’d try to go gloveside, I’d pull it off the plate. I realized it pretty quickly and after the second, I really relied on my off-speed stuff. I’d get ahead with my fastball and then a heavy mix of off-speed. I was trying to grind it out and go six innings and try to keep us in the ballgame. Obviously, I was only able to go five.

“It was a battle the whole night for me.”

He still gave the Tigers a chance to win, turning a 4-1 gam over to the bullpen. The offense would rally twice, but come up just short, stranding the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base at the end, falling 7-6.

“Really, I thought, fought tooth-and-nail, right to the end,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Tough game. We put ourselves in a hole a little bit. Other than that, can’t fault anyone for this one. Everybody fought tooth and nail right to the end. Battled their tails off.”

Including Verlander, as much as he could.

It just ... wasn’t there. He had so much trouble spotting the fastball that he went nearly a whole inning without throwing one.

“It happens. It does happen. It’s not something that’s never happened to me before. It usually happens once or twice a year. I’ve got to go into my next bullpen and iron out some things and fine-tune it a little bit and get it back,” Verlander said.

“That’s why I say you never know until you go out there. I thought my bullpen before the game was one of the best I’ve had to date — this year anyway. It just didn’t carry over at all. I was able to tell pretty quickly that my fastball control just wasn’t there.”

How odd a day was it for Verlander?

It was just the third time since 2010 he lasted five innings or fewer — the others were Opening Day this season, and last year’s rain-shortened start in Boston in July.

He hadn’t walked five batters in a game since 2010, and had only done so seven times in his career. Only twice previously had he walked five in five innings or fewer.

He’d only walked in a run twice previously (on Aug. 31, 2007 and Aug. 31, 2012) in his career. He walked Jason Giambi with the bases loaded in the first inning to put the Indians up 2-0.

He threw 35 pitches in the first inning, 27 more in the second. An 11-pitch third inning, followed by a 17-pitch fourth made it a bit more manageable, but Verlander was still done after 110 pitches through five innings.

“He actually got his breaking ball going there halfway decent, but the toll from the first two innings just took so much out as far as his pitch count, that was going to be it,” Leyland said. “I really didn’t think he made any bad pitches, his control just wasn’t good.”

It’s not a new issue. His 26-pitch first inning last start vs. Houston all but eliminated the possibility he’d be able to finish the no-hitter he flirted with. The start before that, it was a 33-pitch second inning vs. Minnesota that put him behind the 8-ball for the rest of the game.

He had innings of 19, 22 and 20 pitches against Kansas City on April 25.

His 28-pitch seventh inning was when he gave up the only two runs he allowed in a 2-0 loss to Seattle on April 18.

There was a 31-pitch fourth inning against Oakland on April 13, and innings of 23 pitches (the two-run second) and 21 pitches vs. the New York Yankees.

Normally, though, Verlander can go into pitch-conservation mode, and get some quicker outs to get the pitch count back in synch.

That wasn’t an option Saturday.

“I was trying hard. It really hurt that my fastball control wasn’t there. A lot of times, when I get my pitch count up early, I’m able to locate some fastballs the next couple of innings, just nice and easy, just ‘here it is, hit it’ on the corners. Get some quick outs. I wasn’t able to do that tonight. Tried to do that, and continued to fall behind a little bit, and really had to work to get each and every out.”

So is it a portent of doom?

Probably not that bad.

“Well, I think what happens is we all get spoiled — all of us. I think any time that you don’t get a real good game out of him, everybody acts like it’s an alarm. It’s not an alarm. That happens to everybody,” Leyland said.

“Those things happen, happen to the best of them, and it happened to the best of them tonight.”


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