ST. PETERSBURG -- Justin Verlander has broken a lot of bats in his career. A hitter breaking his own bat in reaction to a pitch was a new one.A year after Verlander made a statement here with eight dominant innings to start his second-half resurgence, the two pieces of Oswaldo
ST. PETERSBURG -- Justin Verlander has broken a lot of bats in his career. A hitter breaking his own bat in reaction to a pitch was a new one.
A year after Verlander made a statement here with eight dominant innings to start his second-half resurgence, the two pieces of Oswaldo Arcia's bat -- snapped over his knee after he fanned on one of Verlander's high fastballs -- was a decent statement of Verlander's outing.
"I don't know if I've seen that before," Verlander admitted after the Tigers' 3-2 win over the Rays on Saturday moved Detroit five games over .500 for the first time in over a year.
Verlander wasn't quite as dominant as he was here last July 29, but he wasn't far off.
Last year's outing came too late for the Tigers. Then-general manager Dave Dombrowski announced after that game that they'd be sellers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, then dealt away David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria for prospects within 48 hours. Verlander had one of the best closing stretches of his career, but the team around him fell to a last-place finish. Detroit never saw Verlander and Price at the top of their game at the same time.
Saturday's outing, and the winning streak it helped stretch to five, might yet make a difference for a team that has struggled to find direction.
"We have been streaky so far," Verlander said, "but I think we are starting to find ourselves as a team. I think everything comes together, and hopefully you turn it on later than early. That is the ideal scenario.
"I think everyone is trying to find their role and fit in, and I think that is the name of the game. Everybody is comfortable in what their role is and what they're to do, and that is when you can roll off a bunch of games."
It's a team that has to have strong starting pitching to win. And for all the nasty pitches Michael Fulmer has provided as a rookie, for all the solid innings Jordan Zimmermann can eat, Verlander has to be the ace. Saturday was one of those outings.
Six days after Cleveland hammered Verlander for four fifth-inning homers, he looked sharper all around. His fastball command was stronger, and his breaking balls were sharper. The only extra-base hit he surrendered was Brad Miller's ground-ball double into the gap in right-center in the sixth. The only RBIs were sacrifice flies from Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison.
Even after the frustration of an errant pickoff throw that set up Tampa Bay's first run, Verlander didn't get out of his game mode.
"He attacked [with a] game plan," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "You could tell from the side he had the location to do it, how he selected some certain hitters that were willing, maybe, to expand up in the zone, and then some that were expanding down in the zone. So he definitely made it tough."
Arcia was one of those hitters. After chasing Verlander's 94-mph high fastball in the fifth inning, he stepped to the plate in the seventh with a new bat and fanned on a curveball on Verlander's 106th and final pitch.
It was Verlander's eighth strikeout of the day. He had 10 here last year, but the same number of hits allowed (four).
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.