Righty comes off rough stretch with eight K's, one earned run in seven
CLEVELAND -- Justin Verlander was done tinkering. This was closer to an overhaul.
It's the exact process he didn't want to go through a couple weeks ago, not wanting to add the wear and tear on his arm. With a month of struggles on his record and his career trajectory in question, however, he stopped worrying about workload this week.
"I think this is probably the first drastic adjustment that I've made in the last two years," Verlander said. "Last year, I'd call it tinkering. This is a bit more than tinkering. …
"I wouldn't say a complete overhaul. I still throw the same, but this is more than tinkering. This is a change, for sure."
The exact changes would require a physics course and an explanation of the cause-and-effect relationship in his delivery. Physically, the end result was to bring his arm up higher in his delivery and command his pitches better.
Pragmatically, the result was a lot more swings and misses Saturday night from a Cleveland lineup that rarely missed against him a month ago.
"I saw different swings out there than I have," Verlander said.
His season-high-tying eight strikeouts and one earned run over seven innings put the Tigers in position for a victory before the Indians rallied in the ninth. Detroit came through in the 10th and won, 5-4.
It isn't enough to determine if Verlander is back, just as his rough outing here May 20 wasn't enough to determine if he was off. But it was a start.
It took a lot of work to get there, including a 40-pitch side session the day after his loss to the Royals earlier this week on top of his usual side session the day after that, and he's not done.
"Ironing out these mechanics is not going to be overnight or even a one-start [process]," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's still going to continue to work on it for his next start. Hopefully, eventually, over the course of a couple weeks, he doesn't have to think about those mechanics. They just automatically happen."
Verlander's last loss here was the second start in a seven-game stretch in which he allowed 38 earned runs on 61 hits over 43 2/3 innings, good for a 7.83 ERA and repeated rounds of questions about whether he had lost his dominance. Saturday saw a more composed Verlander mix his pitches while spotting his fastball in the mid-90s to pound the strike zone.
Indians hitters, who put up more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in their previous matchup, couldn't adjust. Verlander threw 68 strikes over 100 pitches, putting himself in counts where he could keep Cleveland hitters guessing. Three of his strikeouts came after putting hitters in 0-2 holes, two of them after Carlos Santana turned on a 95-mph fastball for a fourth-inning solo homer and a 2-1 Indians lead.
Verlander didn't throw the upper 90s fastball. He topped out at 96 mph, according to MLB.com's Gameday, and he only hit that once or twice, sitting at 95 more often. He wasn't concerned about that. Velocity wasn't the immediate goal of the adjustments.
"The velocity wasn't the best," Verlander said, "but I also feel that'll get better, too, as I stop trying to fight it and let it happen naturally. It'll probably take a little while for something to feel completely right and not have to think about it anymore. But I feel like the offspeed stuff had the best effect."
That was the difference. He dropped a first-inning curveball on Asdrubal Cabrera for a called third strike, then used a changeup and a slider for back-to-back strikeouts on Yan Gomes and Michael Bourn in the third. His fourth-inning strikeouts came on 89-mph sliders to Lonnie Chisenhall and Nick Swisher, a couple ticks harder than he usually throws that pitch.
"I got ahead better, threw quality strikes more often," Verlander said. "And then I think it goes back to my offspeed stuff being better and a little sharper."
From there, Verlander was on a roll, retiring the final seven batters he faced from the fifth inning through the seventh.
Normally, he'd have another inning in him from there. With the adjustments he had made, however, Ausmus wanted to hold him there.
"I think it's a harder 100 pitches," Ausmus said, "because his body is doing something different."
Said Verlander: "I think that was kind of my decision, too. I talked to Brad a little bit, and because I was throwing differently, I didn't want to overextend it to 115-120 pitches with a little different arm action. I don't want to risk hurting myself, because I was throwing differently. I don't want to over-exert myself when I'm throwing differently.