PHOENIX -- Even for a veteran pitcher like Justin Verlander, each start in his 13th season with the Tigers is a series of baby steps."I felt like I took a big step forward today," said Verlander, who earned the win in a 7-3 victory over the D-backs on Tuesday night.
PHOENIX -- Even for a veteran pitcher like Justin Verlander, each start in his 13th season with the Tigers is a series of baby steps.
"I felt like I took a big step forward today," said Verlander, who earned the win in a 7-3 victory over the D-backs on Tuesday night. "It's just the feeling that I had on the mound when I slowed down a little bit. My location was just a lot better."
It was a game in three tiers for Verlander, who struggled through the first two innings by walking two and striking out four and throwing 42 of his 108 pitches. The D-backs pounded him for three runs in the third on four hits, including loud doubles by A.J. Pollock and Brandon Drury. And then, Verlander became economical, working into the seventh with a 4-3 lead.
"I became a pitcher the third time through the lineup," Verlander said. "I wasn't necessarily pitching the first couple of times through. I felt a little out of whack. And I just felt too good."
In the sixth, Verlander faced Jeff Mathis with the tying run on third and two outs, and the count went full. Taking a look at the big scoreboard behind him, Verlander had to realize this wasn't slugger Paul Goldschmidt at the plate. Mathis is a .121 hitter with a .136 on-base percentage and .259 slugging percentage.
Verlander reared back and blazed a 98.5-mph four-seam fastball for a swinging third strike.
"It was kind of hard to rein it in after going so hard after Mathis to end the sixth," Verlander said. "That was all I really had left in the tank."
It might have been wise to pat Verlander on the back at that point and call it a quality start -- three runs on six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in six innings. But Tigers manager Brad Ausmus let Verlander go out to start the seventh at 102 pitches.
Ausmus felt Verlander still had another 20 pitches in him.
"Yeah, I mean, they were at the bottom of the lineup," Ausmus said. "He was a little over 100 pitches at the time. I just figured if the first two guys got on, or if two guys got on, that would be the end of it. I was hoping for 15-20 pitches."
Tempting fate, Verlander walked Chris Herrmann and allowed a single to Pollock, which later resulted in a bases-loaded, two-out situation. Shane Greene punched out Yasmany Tomas to end the last D-backs threat.
Verlander wasn't surprised to go out for the seventh.
"I take a lot of pride in going out there and pitching until they tell me not to," Verlander said. "I think Brad knows that, and that's why you put in all the hard work. If my team needs me to go out there and throw 120, I'm prepared to do that. It's not the first time. It's not the last time. I've just got to do a little bit better job."
This time, the job was good enough for Verlander's 176th career win.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.