By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – In a quest to get back to the kind of pitcher he knows he can be, Justin Verlander keeps making progress.
He worked out of a rough start to the game Wednesday, when he walked the first batter, gave up a single to the next batter, advanced both of them with a wild pitch and walked the third batter. Verlander had gotten himself into a bases-loaded, no-out jam.
After a sacrifice fly scored one run, though, Verlander struck out a batter and induced a ground ball by the next.
“The big key was getting out of that inning with only one run,” Verlander said. “[If] all of a sudden you go down two or three runs with the bases loaded, nobody out in the first inning, you kind of put your team behind the eight ball. You only give up one run right there and the guys are like, ‘Okay, we’re still in this thing.'”
The pitcher said his fastball had good life but was obviously erratic, and his curveball was solid, helping compensate for the fastball issues.
“That’s why I think I was able to get some strikeouts on my fastball up in the zone because my breaking ball was good,” Verlander said. “So you see something up, you can’t just automatically give up on it because it could be my curveball and it could come back down into the zone … Even though I was erratic, I was able to grind and battle.”
Verlander, who gave up one run on four hits and five walks Wednesday, still is not pitching to the levels of 2011 and 2012, by far the best seasons of his career, but he has not stopped trying.
“I don’t think there’s been any pitcher in baseball, probably, that’s worked as hard as I had, or have, this season to try to get things right,” Verlander said. “When you’re doing that, you’re tinkering a lot and messing with stuff, so that might throw you off here and there, but I know in my gut that I’ve given 115 percent, I’ve given everything I possibly have, to try to get things on the right path, slowly but surely working in the right direction.”
Verlander said the tweaks to his delivery have produced good and not-so-good results, depending on the pitch, but he is optimistic.
“My curveball’s been better, and that’s a good sign, but with some of the adjustments I made I lost a little bit of feel for my fastball, but that’ll come,” Verlander added.
Of course, the pitcher is not alone in his endeavors to fix what is wrong and ultimately win games. His teammates have done a pretty good job throughout the season of keeping the pitcher out of more pressurized situations.
While much has been made of the MLB-leading 6.14 runs of support on average that fellow Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer receives, Verlander has also been the beneficiary of copious offensive help. In fact, Verlander is third in the major leagues in run support with 5.52 runs on average.
Wednesday it was even better than usual, with home runs by both Alex Avila and Torii Hunter in the second inning and a five-run bottom of the fourth inning. The Tigers led 5-1 after the second and 10-1 after the fourth.
“It’s always a lot easier to pitch with a lead like that, especially when you’re a little erratic,” Verlander said. “You’re not so scared of making a bad pitch and giving up a solo homer that ties the game or puts you down. You can be a little bit more aggressive and cover a little bit more of the plate.”