Dating back to the 2009 season, Justin Verlander has been the gold standard for starting pitchers in baseball. So when anyone with his credentials — less than two years removed from a Cy Young/MVP season in 2011 — gets rocked for eight runs in less than three innings of work as he did Thursday in Detroit’s 10-4 loss to the Rangers in Arlington, eyebrows get raised.
In a 162-game season this could end up as nothing more than a blip on the radar. Plus is was a strange night at the Ballpark with the Verlander and Texas’ ace Yu Darvish combining to throw 74 pitches in the third inning. Darvish even coughed up a no-doubter home run to the immortal Don Kelly. (Darvish did settle down; he made Miguel Cabrera look foolish later on.)
What’s interesting about Verlander’s start was aside from an two-out, 0-2 hanging slider tagged by Mitch Moreland followed by a three-run shot by Geovany Soto, which chased him from the game, the Rangers didn’t exactly beat up the Tigers’ righty. Verlander only walked two Thursday, but both came with the bases loaded. It’s the second straight start he’d walked in a run, after doing it just twice in 239 previous starts. Thursday was also the shortest outing since June 2010.
He was falling behind in counts, unable to put batters away once he got to two strikes. As baseball fans we’ve all come to expect near no-hit brilliance every time the Virginia native toes the rubber. When he isn’t sharp, like Thursday night or during his Mother’s Day start vs. the Indians where he only lasted five innings, you immediately think something is wrong, or if the seven-year $180 million contract extension he signed in Spring Training is a factor.
Watching Verlander pitch, whenever he gives up a hit or, especially a home run, there’s a smirk on his face. It looks like he’s both shocked and pissed off at himself, that such a thing should never happen when he’s pitching. Often you’ll catch him laughing on the mound about it to himself.
After Thursday’s game Verlander told reporters, including the Detroit Free Press:
“I’ve kind of been spoiled the last few years where I’ve been in sync and able to execute most of the year. That hasn’t been the case this year. I know one thing: I’ll get it back, and I’ll get it back in a hurry.”
His overall 2013 numbers look good, aside from a 4-4 record. His ERA had been 1.93 before ballooning to 3.17 after Thursday. He’s also rung up 60 strikeouts in 54 innings. On May 5 he made a bid for his third career no-hitter pitching no hit ball into the seventh, albeit against the woeful Astros.
What could be concerning is that Verlander had a streak of pitching into the sixth inning for 63 starts dating to August 2010, until a rainout last July 31 in Boston ended it. In nine starts in 2013 he’s already gone six or fewer in four, throwing a lot pitches in the process. Last Sunday he needed 110 pitches to get through five against the Indians. His deepest start this year was 7.1 innings in a loss to the Yankees on April 7, a game where Jayson Nix of all people took him deep.
You wouldn’t bet against Verlander and he says its just his mechanics, but this could bear watching the next couple starts until he figures it out.
[photo via Getty]