Verlander gets job done without his best stuff
KANSAS CITY -- Right-hander Justin Verlander spent part of his weekend in Toronto doing the edge walk along the outside of the city's CN Tower, hanging off the side by a harness from a height of about 1,750 feet. For an encore on Tuesday night, he walked a tightrope in the Tigers' 6-5 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Verlander took the mound against the defending American League champions without a consistent slider or a sharp breaking ball, nor did he have the safety net of defensive support. Essentially, he had a fastball and a change of speeds, and a working knowledge of who he was facing.
A little over three hours and 6 2/3 quality innings later, he picked up the victory. And after the marvel of his no-hit bid last week, this was another reminder of the old Verlander.
"He's really pitched exceedingly well, not only because of his velocity, but because of his approach," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think he's trying to show that Justin Verlander's still here."
That Justin Verlander is filthy when his pitches are working. But he's also smart enough to find a way to win when he isn't his best.
"Everything wasn't working quite well, but the fastball location for the most part was still pretty good," Verlander said. "Even if things aren't working quite as well as they normally do, fastball location gets you out of trouble."
When that fastball carries into the upper 90s past the 100-pitch mark, it's even better.
What Verlander did well on Tuesday is what he did a few years ago. He started out his fastball in the low 90s, saving his real heat for tight situations. With each turn through the order, Verlander added some velocity, until he threw 10 consecutive pitches at 95 mph or harder in his seventh and final inning, capped by two pitches at 97.
"Honestly, I still feel like there's more in there, just fine-tune the mechanics a little bit still," Verlander said. "But like I've said a few times, 97 is plenty good enough at this level. It's just you've gotta trust it."
Catcher James McCann wasn't with the Tigers for the days Verlander used to do that every time out. McCann still has an appreciation of it and how to use it.
"Early in the game, he's sat 92-93, touching 94-95 if he needed it," McCann said. "And then again tonight, just like in the no-hitter game, his last inning of work he's up there throwing 97. That's a good sign alone out there where his arm is and how hard he's worked to get back to that point."
Verlander's fourth-inning matchup with Eric Hosmer was Verlander at his best -- a first-pitch curveball dropped on the outside corner for a strike, back-to-back sliders for a 1-2 count, then three straight fastballs up at 94-96 mph to speed up the bat, followed by a slider off the corner for a called third strike. Verlander couldn't do the same against Kendrys Morales, paying for a slider over the plate in allowing his first home run in 35 innings, but Verlander's back-to-back strikeouts of Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain made Morales' drive a solo shot.
"He stayed down in the zone and then worked up in the zone with a purpose," McCann said. "His breaking ball might not have been as sharp as the other night, but he found a way to get it done. That's the Verlander that we like to see."