DETROIT -- The crowd at Comerica Park rose to its feet once again for Justin Verlander. This time, it wasn't about his potential last start with the Tigers, but his latest one.Verlander being traded could still happen. The way he's pitching lately, including eight innings of one-hit ball in Wednesday
DETROIT -- The crowd at Comerica Park rose to its feet once again for Justin Verlander. This time, it wasn't about his potential last start with the Tigers, but his latest one.
Verlander being traded could still happen. The way he's pitching lately, including eight innings of one-hit ball in Wednesday night's 10-0 win over the Pirates, presents the best case yet why the Tigers would expect a team to give up prospects and pick up Verlander's contract. Much like two years ago, as the season gets longer, Verlander is getting tougher.
But for a couple hours on Wednesday, instead of wondering if Verlander might soon be history as a Tiger, the suspense was about Verlander maybe making history with a third no-hitter. He was a few innings away, but as he took the mound for the sixth, that sense was starting to build.
Verlander didn't have his best stuff, walking three batters and hitting another in the third, but he was getting outs. Jim Adduci made one for him on a running catch down the right-field line, then made another across his body after nearly getting crossed up on a Starling Marte line drive in the fifth.
Players were leaving Verlander alone in the dugout. Fans were cheering each out. And Verlander, who took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning against the Pirates here five years ago, was starting to think it.
"Yeah, I guess you can't help but notice it, especially after four or five innings," Verlander said. "But you just have to remind yourself there's a long way to go. Really after six is when I kind of really try to step on the gas and go for it. Fell one out shy of that."
Josh Bell thwarted it with a low line drive just out of Nicholas Castellanos' reach at third base for a two-out double. Otherwise, Verlander would've taken a no-hit bid into the seventh inning against Josh Harrison, who broke up Verlander's 2012 effort.
It could have been a letdown for Verlander, whose chances at these are fewer and farther between than they used to be. Instead, he got tougher.
"You see it all the time, a guy gets deep -- and I was just in the sixth inning -- and gives it up late, and everything kind of comes crashing down," Verlander said. "I can't tell you how many I've lost later in games. As is anything in this game, you just learn from your past and draw on that experience. It's not the first time, hopefully not the last."
Bell's double had an exit velocity of 96.4 mph, according to Statcast™. None of the seven Pirates to face Verlander after that topped 85. No Tigers outfielder had to make a play for him after center fielder Michael Mahtook caught Adam Frazier's fly ball leading off the sixth.
Verlander came within a pitch of five consecutive strikeouts to end his outing. By his eighth and final inning, he was toying with hitters, striking out Francisco Cervelli on curveballs and sliders before firing fastballs past Marte to fan him.
"His slider was outstanding, especially late in the game," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It might have even gotten better with the strikeouts he got in the eighth."
It marked the first time all season Verlander pitched longer than seven innings, something he did nine times last year. And as he walked to the dugout in the eighth, he got a bigger ovation than he did when he walked off in the sixth.
He's 3-2 with a 1.91 ERA over his last seven starts.
"I do feel like I can be a dominant pitcher," Verlander said. "It's not like I have to think my way through games. I look at my stuff and it's as good as it's been in years, as good as it was last year."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.