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Verlander can't finish off hitters, lasts 5 frames

Red Sox foul off several pitches for long at-bats, innings vs. Tigers' ace
MLB.com @beckjason

BOSTON -- The question from Justin Verlander was loud enough from the mound to be heard in the press box atop Fenway Park, piercing the buzz of a lively crowd on a Saturday night.

"Up? Was it up?" Verlander asked home-plate umpire Dave Rackley, wondering about his 3-2 pitch to Josh Rutledge that became a fourth-inning walk.

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BOSTON -- The question from Justin Verlander was loud enough from the mound to be heard in the press box atop Fenway Park, piercing the buzz of a lively crowd on a Saturday night.

"Up? Was it up?" Verlander asked home-plate umpire Dave Rackley, wondering about his 3-2 pitch to Josh Rutledge that became a fourth-inning walk.

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Verlander was coming off a 39-pitch third inning, and Rutledge's walk extended the fourth for Sandy Leon, who fouled off eight consecutive pitches to work a 10-pitch at-bat out of an 0-2 count before finally striking out.

"Sometimes those calls end up costing you," Verlander said. "I felt like the pitch was missed to Rutledge, and then it's another 10 pitches to get out of that inning. Granted, Leon had a great at-bat, but I felt like I shouldn't have even been in that battle. That can be frustrating if you let it, but those guys are humans back there."

Verlander escaped with a no-decision in Saturday's 11-3 loss to the Red Sox; that fell to reliever Warwick Saupold. But by working four walks and fouling off 26 pitches, the Red Sox essentially won by attrition, chasing Verlander and putting the game on Detroit's bullpen.

It's Verlander's second consecutive outing with a 39-pitch inning, and the second where an abundance of foul balls and drought of swings and misses -- eight on Saturday -- stood out.

"It seems to be the general theme this year," Verlander said. "I need to find a way to get guys to swing and miss or put it in play weakly. Fouling balls off right now, it's killing me. It's extending at-bats. Guys are finding a way to have 10-pitch at-bats, and then if they happen to get on, they're spoiling really good pitches."

Verlander threw 108 pitches, 70 strikes, over five innings, allowing three runs on five hits. Chris Sale used 110 pitches over seven quality innings to earn his first win in six matchups opposite Verlander.

Though Verlander left with a 3-3 game, he left the Tigers' bullpen needing to cover 12 outs with Shane Greene unavailable, Alex Wilson coming off a rough 20-pitch outing the night before, and Daniel Stumpf as the only lefty before closer Justin Wilson. Though Stumpf recorded two strikeouts against the bottom of the order in the sixth, the Red Sox pulled ahead on normal long reliever Saupold in the seventh, then pulled away on Arcenio Leon in the eighth. One more inning from Verlander would've made a world of difference.

That's eating at Verlander right now, why he can't finish off hitters more efficiently.

"I don't know if I've had a bout like this consecutively over a period of time, where there's no easy outs, it seems," Verlander said. "So I've got to figure it out. ...

"Do you just kind of chalk it up to luck or guys being really locked in at the right time or is it something else? Your answer is as good as mine at this point. I don't know. Maybe you guys can look into the numbers and tell me why."

His fastball velocity is actually up from last year, from 94.1 mph to 95 mph, according to Statcast™. His spin rate, which many credited with his fastball getting better results last year, is nearly the same this year, 2552 rpm compared to 2560.

"I don't know if it's coincidental," manager Brad Ausmus said. "This is not the first time this year. There may be a cause we need to root out."

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