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Verlander, Ausmus scour tape for tipping signs

Ace searching for clues after allowing career-high 9 ER to Indians Saturday
MLB.com @beckjason

CLEVELAND -- When Carlos Santana sent Justin Verlander's first-pitch curveball into the right-field seats Saturday, he passed former Indians and White Sox great Jim Thome for the most home runs against Verlander, who was asked about the comparison.

"Pretty similar," Verlander said. "I either strike him out or get weak contact or he hits a bomb. It's pretty similar to Thome."

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CLEVELAND -- When Carlos Santana sent Justin Verlander's first-pitch curveball into the right-field seats Saturday, he passed former Indians and White Sox great Jim Thome for the most home runs against Verlander, who was asked about the comparison.

"Pretty similar," Verlander said. "I either strike him out or get weak contact or he hits a bomb. It's pretty similar to Thome."

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The answer was interesting. Thome was known for picking up on Verlander tipping pitches early in his career. Four of Thome's seven career homers against Verlander came in the Tiger's rookie season of 2006, when Thome was 6-for-12 off him. Thome went 8-for-40 with three homers and 13 strikeouts against Verlander the rest of his career.

As catcher James McCann discussed the issue Sunday morning, his focus seemingly shifted from sign-stealing -- a headline with the Indians last season -- to pitch-tipping, an off-and-on issue throughout Verlander's career.

Video: DET@CLE: Ausmus breaks down Verlander's outing

"Honestly, we use multiple signs with nobody on base. We change our signs often. It's gotta be something beyond that," McCann said. "We've kind of exhausted that side of it, and Cleveland's not the only team we do that with. There's numerous teams that we take extra precautions with our signs.

"Sometimes maybe you just have to tip your cap. But it doesn't mean we're going to stop trying to figure out what's going on."

If anything, they're trying harder. Manager Brad Ausmus joined Verlander in a video session Sunday morning.

"Hitters are always trying to find an edge on pitchers, and looking for pitchers tipping is standard operating procedure," Ausmus said. "I can't tell you whether it is [an issue] or isn't. Only the Indians could tell you that, and they probably won't."

While Indians manager Terry Francona echoed Ausmus in saying technology has made it harder for teams to keep signs secret, he said he's heard crazy stories in many places about sign-stealing. Josh Beckett, he noted, was sure somebody was relaying signs from center field at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Video: DET@CLE: Francona on Santana, Kluber, and Miller

If a pitcher is paranoid about signs or pitch-tipping, Francona said, it doesn't hurt hitters.

"So many times over the years -- not just here -- a pitcher will feel good, but he's getting hit," Francona said. "And he's like, 'Man, I've got to be tipping.' Well, then they spend time thinking about that, as opposed to executing pitches. Sometimes, there's not a lot of good explanations. Like yesterday, we were kind of due.

"Verlander left some pitches up yesterday. If he doesn't do that, we're probably not having this conversation."

Indeed, Verlander paid for some hanging breaking balls and high fastballs Saturday. But he also threw eight curveballs with no swing-and-misses, including Santana's home run, and an average exit velocity of 93.3 mph, according to Statcast™. In his previous start, he threw 32 curveballs against the Red Sox with 10 called strikes, two swing-and-misses, and an average exit velocity of 83.3 mph. He didn't get any swing-and-misses on his 17 curveballs on Opening Day, but he drew four called strikes, and the average exit velocity on three balls put in play was 84.2 mph.

"I'd say the numbers speak for themselves," McCann said.

But if there's something there, McCann cautioned, it's on them.

"A pitcher's tipping his pitches, a pitcher's showing the runner at second out of his glove what he's throwing and the guy on second is relaying it, it's nobody's fault but the person who's giving it away," McCann said. "And that's something we as a team do everything we can to prevent from happening."

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