DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has insisted for years that he doesn't pitch against the other team's starter, no matter how good the other pitcher is. As an American League pitcher, he's factually correct. As competitive as Verlander is, though, it has always been difficult to believe.
"No, I mean, I've had plenty of games facing off against somebody who's superb," Verlander said on Friday. "I think through my career, you learn to shut out the noise, and go out there and pitch."
After Verlander outpitched Noah Syndergaard a 4-3 Tigers win, manager Brad Ausmus wasn't so sure.
"Ver, I think, feeds off that type of stuff," Ausmus said. "The more attention that's paid to a particular game or matchup, whether it's him versus Syndergaard or him versus Chris Sale, his concentration goes up to another notch. He wants to beat that guy. Even though they don't actually face each other in the American League, he wants to beat that guy or walk off the field with the lead. …
"When he was young, it was [about] raw stuff. But he always had that competitor in him, and I think that'll carry him down the road even farther."
Before the game, Ausmus called the matchup a meeting of old versus new guard, though he hesitated to call Verlander the old one. But Verlander has been where Syndergaard is now, the young power pitcher with electric stuff that looks unhittable in stretches.
Verlander has seen plenty since those days, pitched opposing multitudes of star arms, endured his share of challenges in his own career and endured. On Friday, he saw what Mets hitters were trying to do to him, and he adjusted.
After a seven-pitch opening inning, Verlander gave up back-to-back singles to begin the second. Verlander struck out Kelly Johnson and Brandon Nimmo on fastballs, but both hitters worked him for seven pitches.
"I think they did a good job battling, had a lot of foul balls, got my pitch count up pretty quickly, especially after a pretty quick first inning," Verlander said. "Usually, a quick first inning allows you to go deeper in the game.
"But that's the way it always is. You've gotta adjust on the fly out there. Whatever game plan you come up with, you've gotta be able to read swings, you've gotta be able to read approaches and you've gotta be able to adjust accordingly."
What followed was a heavy dose of sliders and curveballs at times setting up fastballs. He pitched some batters in reverse, though a hanging first-pitch curveball to Johnson ended up in the right-field seats for a two-run homer.
According to data from MLB.com's Gameday, Verlander threw 36 combined curveball and sliders, the latter a pitch he had used sparingly in his recent stretch. His 49 fastballs marked his lowest total in a game in a month. The combination worked against a Mets lineup that lost Yoenis Céspedes to the disabled list.
Verlander tossed six innings of two-run ball on four hits with a walk and nine strikeouts. He's now 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA since the beginning of July.
"I made some really good pitches and made some not-so-good pitches that fortunately they didn't hit well," Verlander said. "I was able to work around a little trouble there in the second and would've liked to go a little deeper in the game. Kept us in there against a tough pitcher, and our guys really battled him. It was a nice win."