TOLEDO -- By the looks of his start for the Toledo Mud Hens Saturday night, Justin Verlander is ready to come back to the Detroit Tigers. A solid outing in which Verlander struck out nine and went 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball gave the Mud Hens' record crowd of 13,300 something to cheer for, even though Toledo went on to lose 6-1 as a result of an eighth-inning implosion.
Verlander's curveball was particularly sharp as Verlander was able to toy with its speed well and drop the pitch in as low as 77 mph. His fastball, which rested around 90-93 mph, topped out at 94 mph, but it was the placement and the command of his pitches that stood out. Verlander regularly dotted the edges with ease, getting seven of his nine strikeouts, swinging. Of those strikeouts, five ended an inning.
"Control was much better today," Verlander said. "I felt like for the most part I was able to hit my spots, get ahead of guys and execute my pitches much better. I felt like everything was much better today than last time out. I think the most improved was fastball control. The offspeed stuff, had a decent feel for it. Slider early wasn't great but started to get a better feel for it as the game went on."
And with his fastball, Verlander was able to get most of his strikeouts with that pitch. The second through the fourth innings Verlander treated opposing hitters unfairly, sending them down on 10, eight, and 13 pitches, respectively, with four strikeouts in that time. A 23-pitch fifth inning drove Verlander's pitch count up to 74, but with just three hits allowed through five innings and still throwing 94 mph, Verlander started the sixth.
At 87 pitches, Verlander did not want to come out of the game. A trip to the mound by Mud Hens manager Lance Parrish raised the question of whether Verlander could get the next batter out on three pitches. Verlander's response was classic. "Yeah," he said, but six pitches later, Verlander's decision to throw one down the middle in an attempt to prevent a potential 10-pitch at-bat, yielded an RBI double for the Columbus Clippers, ending Verlander's day.
But the focus wasn't so much the end result of Verlander's day, but the placement of his pitches and how he felt, was. Particularly with his fastball control, Verlander didn't just locate, but locate well and hit the corners. And all told, Verlander had 14 swings and misses on his pitches.
As for the jersey Verlander wore?
"Sweet," he said with a grin.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus recently said he expected Saturday's rehab start to be Verlander's last. Judging by how well he dominated opposing hitters, regardless of the playing level, Verlander's return to Detroit seems imminent. For his part, Verlander is pleased with his outing.
"I felt like today was the step I wanted to see," Verlander said. "Biggest thing was getting the pitch count up, and also some innings, not just throwing three innings but getting out there and getting up and down a few times."