In his first rehab start for the Mud Hens, Justin Verlander failed to make it through three innings, struggling with his command and having a lot of lengthy at-bats drive his pitch count up early.
In Saturday night’s start, the first inning appeared it might be trending toward much of the same. Verlander allowed a leadoff single, and then had the third batter he faced take him ten pitches deep. But that at-bat ended in a called third strike, to go with a caught stealing, resulting in a strike-em-out, throw-em-out that ended the inning, and got Verlander on aroll.
From there, he cruised. He didn’t give up another hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning. He mixed his fastball with his breaking pitches well, and he never seemed to struggle or labor.
His outing culminated when he reached 87 pitches with two outs in the sixth inning, and a runner on second base, and Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish came out to get him. Verlander of course had other ideas, and told Parrish he could get the batter in three pitches (Verlander had been given a 90 pitch limit).
Five pitches later, he didn’t have the out, and so he ended his outing by intentionally tossing a meatball. Said Verlander after the game, “I threw it right down the middle, and hoped to get an out. Just basically said, ‘Here it is, hit it.’” That pitch went for a double and allowed Verlander’s lone run of the night (unearned, as the original baserunner reached when Jefry Marte missed a routine grounder at third base). But given the circumstances, it was far from a down note that ended the outing.
For the game, Verlander tossed 93 pitches, with 69 strikes. He allowed just four hits, one of which was the hit on his last pitch, while striking out nine. He also didn’t walk a single batter, and only got to a three ball count twice.
Asked about the success he had today compared to his first rehab performance last weekend, and Verlander was very quick to pinpoint the source of his stellar outing: “My control was much better today. I felt like I was able to hit my spots, and get ahead of guys.”
Verlander was definitely doing a good job of getting ahead of batters. Of the 21 batters he faced, he had 18 first pitch strikes, including 12 of those being called first strikes.
As anyone that follows pitchers knows, velocity is a critical component of fastball success, along with location. Verlander had both going in his favor on Saturday.
His velocity was mostly 91-92 MPH, topping out at 94 MPH a handful of times. His velocity did start to slide to around 89-90 as he got into the fifth and sixth inning, but he was still able to reach back and get a 94 MPH fastball against the final batter he faced.
While the heavy strike count helps illustrate how good Verlander’s control was, he emphasized that as well in his postgame chat with the media. When asked if there was anything different about his fastball this time around, he responded, “Besides command no, just trying to get a feel for it, locating it to both sides of the plate, and I was able to do that. So that’s the biggest key.”
The numbers indicate that it was a good showing for Verlander, and he agreed. “I feel like today was the step I wanted to see. The biggest thing was getting my pitch count up, and also getting some innings. Not just throwing three innings, but getting out there and getting up and down.”
So, what’s next? “That’s a question for the Tigers,” Verlander deadpanned, with a shy grin clearly indicating that he had his own thoughts on what his next step should be.
Besides Justin, the 13,000-plus onlookers, which included former Tigers manager Jim Leyland, likely all saw the same thing, too – a pitcher ready to return to Detroit and face big league competition.
Notables from Verlander’s start:
- Verlander’s fastball was most frequently at 91 MPH, but did fall to 89 a handful of times later in his outing, while topping out at 94 a handful of times, as well.
- Verlander got 18 first pitch strikes against the 21 batters he faced, with 12 of those being called first strikes
- He got 13 swing and misses in his outing, including getting six of his nine strikeouts on a swing and miss. Three of those came in one at-bat, when he struck out Zach Walters on three pitches, one batter after Verlander gave up a two-out double.
- After a bit of a tough start out of the gate that still ended well, Verlander needed just 31 pitches to get through the next three innings, but did so efficiently, including four strikeouts.