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Verlander looking to pitch deeper in games

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's 105th pitch Friday night registered at 98 mph, sending Josh Donaldson down swinging for the second time. It was a throwback to Verlander's younger days when he could hit triple digits on his fastball in the ninth inning.

But on Friday, Verlander's 105th pitch was his first out of the sixth inning. It ended up being his last out of the night. He walked Toronto's next two batters, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, and left after 114 pitches in an eventual 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

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DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's 105th pitch Friday night registered at 98 mph, sending Josh Donaldson down swinging for the second time. It was a throwback to Verlander's younger days when he could hit triple digits on his fastball in the ninth inning.

But on Friday, Verlander's 105th pitch was his first out of the sixth inning. It ended up being his last out of the night. He walked Toronto's next two batters, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales, and left after 114 pitches in an eventual 7-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

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It marked just the second time since early in the 2014 season that Verlander threw 110 or more pitches in less than 5 2/3 innings. And yet, it was a familiar struggle for Verlander in 2017. It wasn't walks that doomed him; he walked only one of Toronto's first 21 batters before the back-to-back passes to end his night. No, his problem was the plethora of foul balls that extended at-bats and ran up his pitch count.

Whether he's still a Tiger or pitching in a playoff race for another club in a few weeks, it's a bugaboo he cannot shake.

"I look back at it and honestly, throughout the game, there were a lot of five -and six-pitch at-bats," Verlander said. "They did a good job when I got to two strikes, battling. There were a few times early that I felt like I fell behind, was a little out of rhythm, probably just the All-Star break and not being able to come here and throw a bullpen or anything. Obviously, would've liked to have gone deep into the game, but those guys did an excellent job, each and every guy really, just kind of working the pitch count."

The one solidly hit ball was a Steve Pearce solo homer off a 2-0 fastball. It wasn't the pitch that did him in, but the count that forced him to go for more of the strike zone than he wanted.

Video: TOR@DET: Pearce opens the scoring with solo home run

"Ideally, you don't get to 2-0," Verlander said. "That's what I was upset about."

At least 10 scouts were on hand to watch. They weren't all necessarily watching with interest in Verlander; both the Tigers and Jays have enough trade candidates to interest a good number of teams. And while a 98-mph fastball well into a game, along with a quality slider and buckling curveball, will always draw interest, those watching the Tigers continue to view a Verlander trade as a long shot because of the money involved -- $28 million each of the next two seasons, plus a $22 million vesting option for 2020 that Verlander could use his no-trade rights to guarantee.

Even big-market teams are hesitant to commit to that kind of money. The Tigers, with an end goal of reducing their payroll while adding prospects, don't want to use payroll to send Verlander -- a franchise icon -- off to pitch somewhere else.

Verlander, after taking a frank look at the Tigers' situation following his last start last weekend in Cleveland, looked past it Friday. Asked if the thought had crossed his mind about potentially a final start at Comerica Park as a Tiger, Verlander said he wasn't thinking about it.

The pitches, the stuff, still appeal to clubs. The results, however, haven't followed. It's not just wins and losses, or ERA. Even when Verlander has pitched well, he hasn't pitched deep. He hasn't thrown a pitch in the eighth inning all season; he pitched into the eighth or later in 10 games last year.

"Obviously the stuff's there," Verlander said. "The swings I'm seeing are what I want to see. The only issue the last couple starts is the pitch count getting up."

He'll work on that for his next start Wednesday at Kansas City. Scouts will still be tracking the Tigers.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander