LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — While many players are saying spring training this year is too long because of the World Baseball Classic, Tigers ace Justin Verlander is happy to have more time.

Verlander allowed three homers and four runs while pitching into the sixth inning Thursday of the Tigers’ 7-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner had yielded nine runs in his last two starts against major league competition.

“My slider’s not anywhere near where it needs to be,” Verlander said. “I must need to work on it and get a feel for it.”

Verlander, however, wasn’t concerned that his spring training ERA rose to 4.74. He has one more spring start before opening up the regular season in Minnesota.

Houston Astros starter Lucas Harrell, who will follow Bud Norris in the rotation, allowed two runs in five innings and walked three.

“I was struggling,” Harrell said. “But I felt like every time I needed to make a pitch, I made it. Everything feels fine but there are times I need to fight through certain situations. Tonight was one of them.”

Astros manager Bo Porter said Harrell was rounding into shape as he tries to fill out the rest of the Astros staff. Besides Norris and Harrell, along with No. 3 starter Phillip Humber, Porter still has heavy competition for the final two spots. Brad Peacock, one of the candidates, pitched the final three innings, striking out five and allowing only two hits.

Porter said Erik Bedard, Alex White, and Edgar Gonzalez are also fighting for the last two spots.

“(Harrell) did a good job considering he didn’t have his best stuff,” Porter said. “He ran into patches where he had some trouble, but he got out of it. I liked that.”

Porter also liked the two home runs that catcher Carlos Corporan hit, including one off of Verlander. Corporan is batting .370 for the spring and competing with Jason Castro for the starting catchers spot. Castro is batting .448 this spring.

Brandon Laird and Matt Dominguez also homered for the Astros.

Victor Martinez went 2-for-3 with a double for the Tigers.

NOTES: 1B Brett Wallace experienced shoulder spasms in his right trapezius diving back to first on a pickoff move and is day to day. . Gonzalez left his start for Triple-A Oklahoma City after being struck in the shin by a line drive. He is day to day. . RHP Jordan Lyles and RHP John Ely were optioned to minor league camp. The Tigers bullpen allowed three more runs and manager Jim Leyland said he is starting to get concerned. “That would be safe to say. Some of these guys need to start stepping it up. It’s getting late,” Leyland said. . Leyland said he isn’t concerned about his starting rotation being ready for opening day. “We are going to have six guys I can count on to throw 100 pitches by opening day.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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