"I put [new center fielder Rajai Davis] to work the first couple innings, had him running around pretty good," Verlander said. "'Here it is, go get it' type of thing."
Considering he got strikeouts when he needed them most, Verlander's eight quality innings in a 4-2 win over the Rockies were meaningful for more than his 25-2 career Interleague record.
He survived for much of the night on fly-ball outs to the depths of spacious Comerica Park before Colorado nearly beat him on the ground. When Verlander found trouble, however, he found a glimpse of his old form.
Verlander didn't light up the radar gun, but a 95 mph fastball was good enough to strike out Charlie Blackmon with the tying run in scoring position in the seventh. Add in two strikeouts on sliders, and he fanned three batters with the tying run either in scoring position or at the plate in the seventh and eighth innings.
Those three swings and misses were more than he had in any count over the first three innings combined.
Those first few innings, he survived on contact. More appropriately, he used the whole ballpark. Colorado's hitters produced just three ground balls and two strikeouts their first two trips through the order. Everything else, they hit in the air -- in the first couple innings, well into the air.
Nolan Arenado's first-inning drive took J.D. Martinez to the left-field fence, where he reached up to keep the ball in. Drew Stubbs' second-inning drive took new center fielder Davis to the warning track in center field. Add it up, and Verlander retired the first seven batters he faced with well over a thousand feet of fly balls, one or two of which might have cleared the fences at Coors Field.
"Those guys were being aggressive," Verlander said. "Early on they were hitting some balls hard but right at people. Early in the game you keep the ball in center field, it's tough to hit it out there."
It was a test for Davis, Detroit's starting center fielder in the first game since Austin Jackson's trade to Seattle in the three-team deal for Price.
Before the game, Davis said he liked center field more than the corners because there was a lot of room to run without hitting the wall. He nearly covered it all early.
"This is definitely one of the biggest ballparks," Davis said. "When you go to other ballparks, it kind of feels small when you get in their outfield."
Though Verlander got ground balls in the third inning, he entered the fourth with only one swing and miss. He got four in the fourth inning alone, including a 96 mph fastball past Carlos Gonzalez with a runner on first.
"As the game went on, got a little bit better," Verlander said. "It's a funny game, the way it works. They hit a few balls hard in the first couple innings, and then the sixth inning or the seventh they didn't hit hardly any hard and got like four or five hits that inning."
Indeed, Verlander became a ground-ball machine his third trip through the order, getting seven of them, but he gave up four singles. Wilin Rosario's low line drive through the left side scored Justin Morneau, then Brandon Barnes slid under Bryan Holaday's tag at the plate on a ground ball to third.
With the tying run on second, the go-ahead run on first and the game on the line, Verlander found the strikeouts he needed -- fanning Detroit area high school product DJ LeMahieu on the slider, then Blackmon on the 95 mph fastball.
With a runner on third in the eighth inning, Verlander (10-9) did it again, sending a slider past Barnes on his 101st and final pitch for his fifth strikeout of the night.
"You can see him elevate his game when he gets in a tough spot," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "He's always been able to do that. He's got to make a pitch and, when he gets some guys out there, gets a little traffic, you can see him amp it up. That's what he did a couple of times tonight when he got in a tough spot."
He hasn't always done it this year. The fact that he did it Friday was big.