Adjustment has Verlander close to clicking

April 23rd, 2016

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has seen this struggling April before.

"Pretty much all my good years," he said.

Not all of them, but quite a few. And after two solo homers over seven innings doomed him in Friday's 2-1 loss to the Indians, the Tigers right-hander had the feeling this could be one.

"I'm disappointed in the loss," he said. "I'm not disappointed in my performance. I think this is a big step in the right direction for me. I think the adjustment I made paid off very well."

Verlander owns a 158-99 record in his career. He wears an 18-20 record in March and April, his only month under .500. By contrast, his 30-15 record and 3.32 ERA make May by far his strongest month.

He was 2-3 with a 3.64 ERA in April 2011 before his May 7 no-hitter in Toronto set him on course for a dominant summer and an MVP/Cy Young season. He sat 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA at the end of April the year before that. He was 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA in April 2009.

Each year, he bounced back with a vengeance in May, usually after an outing -- maybe decent, maybe rough -- in which he'd feel his pitches were coming together.

As he stood at his locker Friday night, he felt like this month had that feeling for him.

"It does, where it's kind of in and out," he said. "For the most part, for me, April is a little bit inconsistent, and once it clicks, it clicks.

"I was really happy with tonight. Obviously, the results aren't what anybody in this clubhouse wanted, but I was happy with the adjustments that I made."

The adjustments had been a few starts in the making since the Pirates pummeled him, but particularly this week. He had an extra day between starts this turn, and he used it to put in extra work on his mechanics.

"I don't want to get too far into it," he said, "but I think the adjustment that I made got my arm in the right slot and everything felt easier. I noticed I was responding better in between innings, my arm felt really good and felt really good when I was done. So I felt like it used to."

It wasn't an uptick in velocity. His curveball, he felt, had more bite. His changeup was a more viable pitch. His slider remains a work in progress. Compared to two starts ago, when Pirates hitters could sit on fastballs and shrug off most everything else, it was a marked improvement.

"I thought everything was crisper," he said.

His seven innings marked just the second time this season a Tigers starter worked that deep into a game. His 118 pitches marked a season high. His 10 strikeouts comprised his highest total in a game since last July at Tampa Bay.

"One of the best starts I've seen him have in the last year and a half," manager Brad Ausmus said.

Those two solo homers -- one a 94-mph fastball that he felt he located down to Carlos Santana, the other a fastball he left up to Marlon Byrd -- were enough to spoil the outing. They didn't spoil the stuff.