Justin Verlander would be the first to tell you that he did not have his best stuff in Monday’s 2-1 win over the Boston Red Sox. He already did, in fact, correcting reporters after they asked when he got his pitches working during his start. “I wouldn’t say all of them started working,” Verlander said after the game. “I would just say they got better.”
Specifically, only one of Verlander’s pitches truly got better as the game went on: the curveball. He all but neglected his changeup, throwing it only four times despite facing a Red Sox lineup featuring six left-handed hitters. Verlander also threw another 20 sliders among his 112* pitches, a 17.8 percent rate that is in line with what he threw in 2016.
The other 88 pitches Verlander threw were either fastballs or curves. His fastball command was a little bit spotty early, but he improved as the game went along. He threw fifty-three fastballs throughout the game, many of them in the 94-95 mile per hour range. This leaves 32 curveballs thrown to Red Sox hitters, a whopping 28.6 percent clip. Verlander only threw his curveball 16 percent of the time last season, a slight uptick from years prior.
However, even that doesn’t tell the whole story.
*Only 109 of Verlander’s 112 pitches were classified during the game by MLB Advanced Media. Manual corrections — and, consequently, corrections to this article — will come later.
Justin Verlander Pitch Usage
|Pitch||Innings 1-4||Innings 5-7|
|Pitch||Innings 1-4||Innings 5-7|
As the table suggests, Verlander leaned heavily on his curveball in the later innings, when he finally seemed to settle into a groove. The fifth inning was his first 1-2-3 frame of the afternoon, and one of his most efficient, with just 14 pitches thrown. His snappy fifth and sixth innings helped him get his pitch count under control, allowing him to go out and finish the job in the seventh.
Admittedly, one could probably find a similar grouping of pitches in most games. Good starting pitchers have to mix their pitches as the game goes on in order to keep hitters off balance. Some pitchers will only flash one or two of their offerings early in the game so as to not show hitters too much too early.
Still, this mix from Verlander is a little extreme. Twenty-three of his final 41 pitches were curveballs, and many were thrown after he had fallen behind in the count. The Red Sox only swung at nine of the curveballs thrown, and watched 10 more drop in for strikes, like this one to Sandy Leon in a 1-1 count.
Not many strikeouts from Verlander today, but he did drop in a number of snapdragons pic.twitter.com/vx7InkgcRv— Tigers GIFs (@TigersGIFs) April 10, 2017
Once Verlander got the curveball going, he racked up a few more punchouts. He did not register a strikeout in the first three innings, but fanned a batter in each of the next four frames to close out his day.
Of course, there were still a few strikeouts pic.twitter.com/CuN3iPqgf7— Tigers GIFs (@TigersGIFs) April 10, 2017
Verlander only threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 26 hitters he faced, yet only walked two batters, and limited the Red Sox to just five baserunners in his seven innings of work. Whether it was planned or a necessary switch as the game moved on, his mid-game adjustment to lean on his curveball more is a major reason why the Tigers were able to stay in the game and ultimately cap off a series win over another AL playoff contender.