DENVER — Justin Verlander didn’t need his best stuff to beat the Colorado Rockies.
Verlander threw a four-hitter for his second straight complete game and the Detroit Tigers beat the Rockies 9-1 on Sunday. It was Verlander’s seventh straight win, but he said he wasn’t nearly as sharp as he has been lately.
“This start wasn’t that great,” he said. “Early in the game especially, my fastball control wasn’t anywhere near where it should be. But I was able to keep guys off balance.”
Verlander (9-3) has four complete games, matching his total from all of last year and leaving him second to Tampa Bay’s James Shields, who has five. Shields threw a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over Florida earlier Sunday.
Verlander retired 13 of the first 14 batters he faced to help the Tigers salvage the finale of the weekend series. It was the sixth time this season Verlander has won following a Detroit loss.
“When Justin’s pitching I think you get a little bit of a lift automatically,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “The guys take the field with a little bit of pizazz. He’s earned that.”
In his last start against Cleveland on Tuesday, the hard-throwing righty came within five outs of tossing his second no-hitter of the season and third of his career before settling for a two-hitter. Sunday didn’t hold the same drama, but Verlander was in complete control all afternoon. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter.
“We know as an offense their team’s going to have a real small margin for error when Ver’s on the mound,” outfielder Brennan Boesch said. “If they don’t capitalize on runs early it’s going to be a tough day for them.”
The Rockies had a chance to get to Verlander when Troy Tulowitzki reached third with one out, but he struck out Ty Wiggington and got Charlie Blackmon to ground out to end the threat.
“I was thinking limit the damage,” Verlander said. “I’m OK with giving up one run but I didn’t want to give up two or three. So if I get in a situation where I could strike out Wiggington then I’ll go for it. I got two strikes, and once I get to there I try to strike him out.”
Boesch had three hits, including his 10th homer, and Miguel Cabrera hit his 14th. Alex Avila and Don Kelly had two hits each for the Tigers, who had 13 hits and 37 in the three-game series.
Wiggington homered and Tulowitzki had two hits for the Rockies, who were trying to sweep their first series since taking four from the Mets in April.
The Tigers pecked away at Colorado starter Aaron Cook early to take a 4-0 lead. Ryan Rayburn’s RBI single in the second, Avila’s sacrifice fly and Andy Dirks’ RBI single in the third made it 3-0, and Don Kelly tripled home Austin Jackson in the fourth to give Verlander a four-run cushion.
Cook (0-2) was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth after allowing four runs on eight hits, walking two and striking out four.
The Rockies got to Detroit’s first two starters in the series but couldn’t solve Verlander until Wiggington’s one-out homer in the bottom of the fifth that made it 4-1. It was the first run Verlander allowed in 16 1/3 innings.
Blackmon followed with a single to left but he was erased when Cabrera threw him out at second trying to advance on another errant pickoff attempt.
Colorado’s defense, which was stellar in Saturday’s win, allowed the Tigers to put the game out of reach in the seventh.
With Kelly on first, Boesch’s single rolled under Seth Smith’s glove to the wall, scoring Kelly. After a walk to Cabrera, catcher Matt Pagnozzi’s passed ball scored Boesch and Cabrera moved to third when reliever Rex Brothers misplayed the throw to the plate. Avila singled to make it 7-1.
Boesch and Cabrera homered on consecutive pitches in the ninth off reliever Clayton Mortensen. Verlander retired the Rockies’ 3-4-5 hitters to end the game.
“That was as good a game as we’ve had pitched against us all year,” Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. “He was throwing four pitches for strikes, not two. We just got beat today by one of the games’ best pitchers who right now is throwing as well as anybody in baseball.”
Verlander’s nine wins ties teammate Max Scherzer for the AL lead. Verlander has thrown more than 100 pitches in each of his 16 starts this season.
Rockies RHP Ubaldo Jimenez said the cramp in his right calf that forced him out of Saturday’s game will not force him to miss his next start Friday against the Yankees in New York. Jimenez said Sunday he felt the calf become tight when he was running the bases in the second and it got worse in the sixth, but it felt fine Sunday morning.
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