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Verlander moves up K list, but HRs prove costly

Right-hander whiffs eight, now sits 19th all-time in strikeouts
@brianmctaggart
June 19, 2019

CINCINNATI -- The balls are flying out of ballparks at a record rate, and not even one of the game’s best pitchers in the last decade-plus has found himself immune to the long ball. Astros starter Justin Verlander allowed three homers for the second start in a row, including a

CINCINNATI -- The balls are flying out of ballparks at a record rate, and not even one of the game’s best pitchers in the last decade-plus has found himself immune to the long ball.

Astros starter Justin Verlander allowed three homers for the second start in a row, including a backbreaker to Kyle Farmer in the seventh inning Tuesday night that wound up being the difference in Houston’s 4-3 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Box score

Jesse Winker led off the game with a homer off Verlander and Derek Dietrich homered later in the first inning to give the Reds a 3-0 lead. Verlander (9-3) struck out eight and allowed four runs on six hits and one walk in seven innings. He has allowed 20 homers, including 17 solo shots, this year.

“The ball is flying out an unprecedented level,” Verlander said. “It used to be, 'The name of the game is to miss barrels,' and now it’s kind of to miss the whole bat. You have to generate swings and misses, because it doesn’t take a lot for the ball to leave. And limit baserunners, you know? You have to keep guys off the basepaths, because a three-run homer hurts more than a solo shot.”

Farmer’s homer on a 3-2 slider put the Reds ahead, 4-1, in the seventh and allowed Cincinnati to absorb a two-run homer by Alex Bregman -- his team-high 20th of the season -- in the eighth. The Astros have scored just five runs while losing three in a row for the first time since April 20-22.

“They’ve performed pretty well virtually the whole season, so they’re handling us right now and we’ve had a hard time scratching across some runs,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

The homer that had Verlander throwing his arms up was by Dietrich, who hit a 1-2 slider and sailed it out of the ballpark with an exit velocity of 88.2 mph and an expected batting average of .040.

“It’s tough to pitch in this game now,” Verlander said. “It’s tough to pitch against homers. It’s kind of one of those things where you’re just constantly playing with fire. When every hitter in the lineup can hit a home run on any pitch in the strike zone, and you attack the strike zone as much as I do and you’re a fly-ball pitcher, it’s pretty hard.

“Dietrich, slider in. I mean, you know when Dietrich doesn’t pimp it and it goes out, he didn’t hit it very well. That tells you how that one was hit.”

Verlander’s overall numbers are still tremendous, a testament to how well he’s pitched despite the homers. He’s averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and he has a 2.59 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP, which helps explain why so many of his homers allowed have been with no one on base.

“Verlander is obviously very good, but we don’t get caught up in who is on the mound,” Dietrich said. “You still have to take a good swing. You have to stick to your approach. We try not to get too carried away about who is actually out on the mound. I think, really, you have to focus on yourself and your approach as a team and personally. Just to get on the board in any game is huge for our pitchers, regardless of who is on the other side.”

Verlander admitted that he has to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard, and he even joked with reporters that he was open to ideas on how to do that.

“When you got 80-[mph] balls off the bat leaving the yard, that’s like me throwing a changeup out,” he said. “I think you’ve got to try to do the best you can to miss barrels, and even when you do, that they still go out if they hit them in the right place. Strikeouts? Yeah, I could throw less strikes, but I’m somebody traditionally that likes to attack the zone and not put too many guys on base. You kind of live and die by that.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.