DETROIT -- Nothing was working for Justin Verlander. That much was obvious. Regardless of what he threw, pitches just weren't landing where they needed to be and the baseballs may as well have been the size of basketballs. April inconsistencies are nothing new, for Verlander. He's always struggled to get hitters out in April, and there have been some truly rough ones in the past.
"My Aprils, historically, aren't that great, they're a little up and down," Verlander said after the game. "But once it clicks, it goes. I think it's a good sign that I'm feeling good and the ball's going out (of my hand) well."
But to find the last time Verlander gave up more than five runs in an April game, you have to go all the way back to April 11, 2010. He hadn't even given up more than three runs in any one start (earned or otherwise) since 2012, when he allowed four earned runs on two occasions (one with five runs, unearned).
Collectively, he had seven April games in the last five seasons (not counting 2015 when he was on the disabled list) where he gave up four or more runs in a single start, and only once had poor back-to-back outings (April 5 and 11, 2010). His collective ERA during that stretch: 3.05 across 28 games. In that sense, Monday's outing was a unusual.
Verlander's issues primarily stemmed from his fastball, which he couldn't command. It was up and all over the place. The velocity was there, but that was about it. And he struggled with his offspeed pitches -- as evidenced by the second inning, bases-loaded hung slider to Jordy Mercer, which nearly decapitated Verlander -- after trying just about everything else, up to and including the kitchen sink.
What was somewhat working, was Verlander's curveball, but the Pittsburgh Pirates were having none of it as an out-pitch. The placement was fine, it's just that the Pirates weren't biting beyond the occasional look-see.
"It wasn't great, though," Verlander said. "I got a couple called strikes on it but early in the count guys don't really wanna swing at the curveball anyway, so they'll take it. But then later in the count I needed to execute a little bit better below the zone, and it just wasn't quite getting there, so they were able to foul it off or just take it."
For Verlander, the Pirates weren't so much sitting on his fastball as they just hit the stuffings out of everything he sent their way. The swings and misses were few and as the game progressed, he began to see a "snowball effect" with how guys were seeing his pitches.
The main problem was just that his pitches were up, and that resulted in his worst start since July 19, 2015 when he gave up seven runs on eight hits across 3 2/3 innings to the Baltimore Orioles. Compounding that was the fact this was just his second career start where he threw more than 100 pitches and failed to make it out of the fifth. The last time that happened was Aug. 26, 2006, his rookie season.
But it's just Verlander's second start of the year. His last was in warmer weather in Florida facing the Marlins, and even that had a few hiccups. Whether reflective in the scoreboard in the past, April is generally when Verlander fixes the issues and quirks in his pitching.
Some of the results aren't pretty in April, but by the time May rolls around, he turns into a nightmare for hitters. So, for now, Monday was just a really bad day facing a team that's red-hot at the right place and the right time.