Verlander regains velocity, sharpness
SEATTLE -- Justin Verlander had done enough tweaking over the past few weeks. The pitching he delivered Friday night against the Mariners looked a little like a return to basics, pounding the strike zone with fastballs to set up the rest of his pitches. For Verlander, it was an inning-by-inning approach.
He felt good throwing between starts, but he was also wary of the big inning that had crippled him a few other times this month. Thus, he didn't allow himself to let off.
"You just ride the flow of the game," Verlander said. "You just see how things are going. You never know when things can turn at this level. Things happen quickly. You can't let your guard down for one second."
The result was some of his best numbers this season, centered around a fastball that not only had velocity, but location. He threw fastballs with 55 of his 120 pitches at an average of just over 95 mph, according to data from MLB.com's Gameday application and brooksbaseball.net. Of those 55 fastballs, 34 went for strikes, and 26 of those were classified as strikes not put in play. That included six swings and misses.
"That was the point the whole game," Verlander said of pounding the strike zone. "I've been walking too many guys. It's not like I was intentionally walking guys. I was just inconsistent. Not saying by any means that this was perfect and we're going to go forward from here -- that's not the way this works -- but it shows me that the stuff I've been working on was definitely helping. I was able to pound the zone with good stuff."
He started out throwing his fastball hard, hitting 95 in the opening inning, and kept it there, peaking at 98 late in the game. The rest of his pitches followed from there -- 20 out of 26 changeups for strikes, 13 of 21 sliders, and 11 of 18 curveballs.
"I think my rhythm was much better, my consistency was much better and my stuff was a lot better," Verlander said. "That's a good sign in and of itself."
He went to three-ball counts on all three hitters in the middle of the Mariners order -- Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager -- his first time through the lineup, but had only one other three-ball count. That was the fourth-inning walk to Smoak, which he paid for two pitches later with a Seager home run. That, he said, was a fastball he wanted in on Seager's hands but left down for him to extend his arms and pull the ball with power.
"Typical lefty pitch, down and in," Verlander said. "He just dropped the hands on it."
The way Verlander responded from there was impressive, putting Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley in 0-2 counts from there. Zunino escaped with a hit-by-pitch, but Ackley took a called third strike.
"He attacked the hitters," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He wasn't tiptoeing around anyone. He went after them."
That was enough for Ausmus. With 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball, a walk and seven strikeouts, that was plenty -- not just for Ausmus, but for the sometimes perfectionist Verlander.
"This is my ninth year in baseball. There's going to be bumps in the road. It's never going to be just excellence," Verlander said. "That's one of the great things about being able to look to the next one, not dwelling on the last one, or past two, or past three or past 10. Whatever you have to work on to get ready for your next one and hopefully give your team a chance to win is what you need to focus on."