Verlander knocked around by Chicago
Two home runs, throwing error spell trouble for rookie
CHICAGO -- The White Sox have a habit of reminding Justin Verlander that the Cy Young Award candidate is still a rookie. Jose Contreras has a way of making the first-place Tigers look like a punchless lineup.
Combine them, and at least some Tigers were glad they had a quick turnaround after a 5-0 loss.
"If he made a bad pitch, they hit it," manager Jim Leyland said of his young right-hander. "And if he made a tough pitch, they hit a few of those, too. You tip your hat to them. They did an excellent job of hitting. They did a much better job of approaching him than we did of approaching Contreras."
Leyland was highly complimentary of Contreras, saying the split-finger artist pitched about as good as he has ever seen him. But he brought up a statement he made back in Spring Training, that normally a battle between a pitcher and hitter is decided when one side gives in just a little. He doesn't believe Verlander gave in, but he thinks his offense might have.
"To simplify it," Leyland said, "I think Contreras was real tough, and I don't think we battled him the way we've battled most pitchers all year long."
Despite nine days off since his last outing Aug. 1 against Tampa Bay, Verlander took the mound Friday still tied for the Major League lead in wins. However, the one team that has hit him around more than once was stepping into the batter's box.
The White Sox were the last team to hand him a loss, way back on June 7. Now, they're responsible for three of his five defeats.
"I've got to figure these guys out," Verlander said afterwards.
While Contreras put up quick innings -- seven pitches to retire the side in the first, eight in the fourth, 10 in the third and fifth -- the White Sox made Verlander battle. Not only did he never put up a 1-2-3 inning, he gave up multiple hits in every inning but his first.
For a few innings, he got away with it, in large part because most of the hits weren't for extra bases. An improbable double play from Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen erased a baserunner ahead of back-to-back two-out singles before Verlander fanned Brian Anderson on three straight offspeed pitches to escape the second inning. An errant pickoff throw led to a Scott Podsednik run in the third before Craig Monroe threw out Alex Cintron at home plate to end the fourth.
Despite eight hits allowed through four innings, Verlander was keeping the Tigers in the game while Contreras no-hit Detroit through the same span. Despite a season-high 13 hits allowed, a few on quality pitches they seemingly anticipated, Verlander's fortune swung on two pitches in the fifth.
After Tadahito Iguchi hit a one-out single and advanced on Brandon Inge's throwing error, Jim Thome watched four Verlander pitches go by before turning on a low offspeed pitch at the knees and sending it over the fence in left-center field. Thome's 35th home run of the year was his fifth off Tigers pitching, three of them off Verlander.
"Either I break his bat or strike him out, or he hits a home run off me," Verlander said.
Verlander (14-5) regrouped to retire Paul Konerko, but Jermaine Dye lined a 2-2 pitch into left to extend the inning. That's where Verlander, trying to work quickly, made the one pitch he'd take back if he could.
A day after being voted as having the second-best fastball in the American League according to Baseball America, he left a 94-mph offering over the heart of the plate. A.J. Pierzynski, a .324 career hitter against Detroit entering the game, sent it out to right for his 10th homer of the season and the effective end of Verlander's personal seven-game winning streak.
"It just kind of tailed right back over the plate," said Verlander, who had allowed just one home run over his previous eight starts combined. "He ran into it. Other than that, most of the hits they got were on decent pitches."
With most any other opposing pitcher taking the mound in the other half-innings, it might not have felt over. The way Contreras seemingly controlled Tigers hitters, however, the rest of the game felt like an afterthought.
Contreras retired 13 straight Tigers from his second-inning walk until Curtis Granderson broke up his no-hit bid with a two-out double in the sixth. He nonetheless kept Tigers hitters hamstrung from there, scattering two more singles for his first Major League shutout and handing Detroit its first blanking since May 29.
Coincidentally, that game was part of Detroit's last losing streak of more than two games.
"He wasn't missing any spots, bottom line," Inge said. "There's nothing different [from previous starts]. He threw every pitch right where you couldn't really do much with it. ... If you don't take advantage of some of the pitches he throws over the plate, you're not going to beat him. And we didn't do that tonight."
Contreras has made that formula work against Detroit, having won four of his last five starts over them with a 2.43 ERA. Leyland fears the Tigers played right into it.
"We hit tonight like we couldn't wait to get out of there," Leyland said, "and that was disappointing. We hit tonight like, 'Well, it's my turn. We'll just go up there and hit and get out of there. If I happen to get a hit, fine. If I don't, we'll lose.' And that was a little disappointing."
He hasn't had much reason to say that this year. As he pointed out, they just finished off a stretch against such arms as Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia with relative success.
Verlander belongs in that class, too. It just hasn't shown against Chicago.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.