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Bullpen comes through after Verlander toils

Relief crew strong in Game 2 win following ace's gutty effort

CLEVELAND -- As Justin Verlander labored through the fifth and sixth innings in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader at Progressive Field, in a way he was paying it forward.

The 32-year-old right-hander racked up 114 pitches -- 53 of which came in those last two frames -- in the day's opening 7-2 loss, in turn helping save the bullpen for rest of the day.

"Honestly, I was in prime position to go eight or nine innings until a long fifth," Verlander said after the Tigers posted a 9-2 victory for a split of the day's action. "I got a little out of whack there and threw a lot of pitches in the fifth inning. Obviously, after that, I was happy to get through six and give us that extra inning with another game coming up. So, maybe in some small way I helped us win the second one. Who knows? But I'll take credit for that."

Video: [email protected]: Feliz strikes out Perez swinging in the 6th

It turned out to be a valiant effort, as starter Randy Wolf was bounced after just three innings, forcing the Tigers to rely on a bullpen that entered the game with a 5.40 ERA in 50 innings against the Indians.

"We used six innings [of relief], but we were fortunate that the game got a little out of hand, so some of the guys who have been used quite a bit in closer games -- [Alex] Wilson and [Blaine] Hardy -- were able to get the complete day off, which is very good," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.

Instead, it was Drew VerHagen, Neftali Feliz and Jose Valdez whom the Tigers turned to, each of which gave two scoreless innings.

VerHagen's performance in particular was notable, as the 24-year-old 6-foot-6 right-hander earned his first Major League win, and has posted a 0.55 ERA in 16 1/3 innings since being recalled from Triple-A on Aug. 19.

"It's a really, really cool feeling," VerHagen said. "It's something I've dreamed about forever. It's just awesome that I finally get to experience it."

Ausmus recently indicated that VerHagen, who spoke to reporters with "a hairful of beer from a postgame beer shower," is beginning to earn a bigger role on the team, and could be a key part of the team's bullpen moving forward.

Could he perhaps find himself used in late-inning, high-leverage situations down the stretch this season?

"It's possible," Ausmus said. "I've used him in the seventh before. Today, really, was a situation where we wanted to keep the score where it was when they had a bunch of right-handed hitters in the lineup. So those were important innings."

August Fagerstrom is an associate reporter for
Read More: Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander, Randy Wolf, Drew VerHagen, Neftali Feliz