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Channeling playoff mode, Verlander dominates

MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Unless the Tigers pull off a trade in the next 10 days, Justin Verlander will not be pitching playoff baseball this year. So he decided to treat Sunday's outing against the Dodgers like a postseason start.

If there was any doubt whether Verlander can gear up for big games anymore, the results in Sunday's 6-1 win -- eight innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts -- should have dispelled it.

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DETROIT -- Unless the Tigers pull off a trade in the next 10 days, Justin Verlander will not be pitching playoff baseball this year. So he decided to treat Sunday's outing against the Dodgers like a postseason start.

If there was any doubt whether Verlander can gear up for big games anymore, the results in Sunday's 6-1 win -- eight innings of two-hit ball with nine strikeouts -- should have dispelled it.

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"This is the best team in baseball," Verlander said, "and this morning, I kind of told myself I'm going to take a playoff-type intensity out there and not let these guys sweep us. It's impossible to really create playoff atmosphere without being in the playoffs, but I tried my best to do that. There was that much more focus and intensity in every pitch. For whatever reason, I guess I kind of locked in a little more."

Five days earlier, Verlander sat in the clubhouse in Texas, talking about individual motivation in the dog days of a season out of contention, about serving as an example for younger players and trying to finish strong. He admitted the August trade rumors were in his head, sometimes in his dreams.

None of that was on his mind Sunday. By the time he stepped to the mound in the sixth inning, he had plenty of intensity, a pitching duel opposite Kenta Maeda that did not have a base hit up to that point. Verlander not only was shutting down the prolific young Dodgers lineup, he was in hitters' heads thanks to a new twist on an old pitch.

After struggling with his slider last start, and off and on for much of the summer, Verlander essentially split it into two pitches -- a harder pitch in the low 90s that acts like a cutter, and a lower-speed version that features traditional break. He also geared up his fastball to the mid-to-upper 90s early instead of saving it for later.

Video: LAD@DET: Verlander shines with 9 K's in eight innings

He took what was essentially a five-pitch arsenal, adopted Michael Fulmer's aggressive approach from Saturday and went at them. The results left the Dodgers struggling to adjust.

"I had good life on the fastball, and I think my slider was the best it's been," Verlander said. "Used my fastball a lot, used my slider a lot, used my curveball and changeup just to slow guys down a little bit. But I was having good success with those, and wasn't really going to deviate until I saw an adjustment."

Verlander retired the first 13 Dodgers he faced, six by strikeout, before Yasiel Puig drew a walk with one out in the fifth. He then struck out three of the next four batters. All of his strikeouts were on fastballs or sliders, as were all 12 swings and misses he posted. He didn't allow much hard contact aside from Corey Seager, who followed up a first-inning lineout to center with a fourth-inning liner that right fielder Alex Presley stopped with a leaping catch.

"You make that play and you start thinking, 'We could be onto something here the rest of the way,'" Presley said.

By the time former Tiger Curtis Granderson stepped to the plate with two outs in the sixth, the cheers he had been receiving from his old home fans were replaced by cheers for Verlander in his second no-hit bid in three starts. A 1-2 fastball that just missed drew a groan from a crowd that wanted the strikeout. Granderson's swing on the next pitch, a slider at his knees, drew silence as it clanked off the right-field foul pole.

The man who helped preserve Verlander's first no-hitter squelched an attempt at his third.

"I pitched him pretty well," Verlander said. "I wouldn't even take back the pitch I threw him. He ran into it. He put a good swing on it."

Granderson was here because the Dodgers traded for him, taking him from a meaningless stretch run with the Mets to a World Series chase. Verlander's outing presents his latest evidence why he could do the same, but Sunday's no-hit suspense was a good simulation. He can't pitch that way all the time; he'd wear down if he did. But Sunday was a good afternoon for it.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

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