Verlander starts strong before fading
No Tigers comeback as Cleveland hex stays on right-hander
CLEVELAND -- This one was not an example of Justin Verlander out of sync or out of luck. This was simply lost outs ahead of a ball that got out.
In the case of Sal Fasano and Asdrubal Cabrera, the two men at the bottom of the Indians order, Detroit got them out just once Thursday. Thus, as much as Grady Sizemore's go-ahead three-run homer hurt in the Tigers' 9-4 loss Thursday, it was the runners on base for him that made the difference.
As a result, though the Tigers put up some runs against Fausto Carmona in what was expected to be a pitchers' duel, they still left town with a four-game series split and a staff ace getting hit.
"I thought we battled," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought we had some pretty good at-bats. We just didn't pitch well enough."
It was an unexpected statement on a day when Verlander struck out nine batters over 5 2/3 innings, including the third through sixth hitters in the order consecutively from the end of the third inning through the fourth. Yet it was a telling sign of how Verlander's struggles at Progressive Field continued.
Verlander's 1-6 record and 9.00 ERA in seven career starts became evident in the frustration in his voice as he talked with reporters after the game. The thing is, it was evident in Leyland's voice, too.
"To sum this game up, in my opinion, the fifth inning was disastrous -- not the three-run homer, but the at-bat before it," Leyland said.
That was Cabrera, whose leadoff walk in the third inning resulted in nothing. In fact, Cabrera was the only Indians hitter that Verlander didn't retire in a 12-batter span between Jhonny Peralta's RBI double in the first inning and a wayward 2-2 fastball that hit Fasano ahead of Cabrera with one out in the fifth. Just two Indians put the ball in play out of the infield in that stretch, and Verlander followed that with his run of strikeouts. He changed speeds effectively in that stretch, mixing changeups frequently with his mid-90's fastballs against an aggressive-swinging young lineup.
He was looking for another strikeout in that fifth inning once he put Cabrera in a 1-2 count.
"Once I got to 2-2, I probably should've just gone right at him," Verlander said. "It's easy to say in retrospect, but when you're out there in the middle of it, I probably overthought it a little bit in thinking, 'He's looking for a fastball.'"
Verlander went with the fastball on a 1-2 count and missed inside. He came back with a changeup, also in, that ran the count full. With a payoff pitch, he went to his curveball.
"He has confidence in all his pitches," catcher Dane Sardinha said, "and he wanted to throw a breaking ball. And he did, and he didn't get Cabrera to bite."
With that, Cabrera walked for the second time on the day, putting the go-ahead run on base and flustering Leyland.
"Maybe he had a strikeout on his mind. I don't know," Leyland said. "That's not acceptable. That just appears, from my perspective, that myself and the coaches aren't prepared when you do that."
Verlander felt prepared in that instance. In hindsight, he just got away from his game. He went back to the fastball on his first pitch to Sizemore, who turned on the 97-mph heater and sent it down the right-field line and into the Tigers' bullpen for his 27th home run of the season.
"We just tried to go away on him," Sardinha said. "It kind of came back over and he pulled it."
With that, the pitching duel was over.
"That's the game right there," Verlander said.
Fasano's RBI single his next time up knocked out Verlander (8-11) with two outs in the sixth, having thrown 114 pitches. Up came a bullpen shortened by fatigue following Wednesday's 13-inning victory.
Clay Rapada, called up Thursday morning from nearby Triple-A Toledo for just one day before Kyle Farnsworth joins the Tigers on Friday, loaded the bases with a Cabrera single before hitting Sizemore with a 1-0 pitch. Those sixth-inning runs ended up adding to the difference once the Tigers rallied to close the gap.
Carmona (5-3) retired 15 of 17 batters after Curtis Granderson led off the game with a single and later scored. Ramon Santiago's sixth-inning run briefly cut into the lead before the Indians added on. Back-to-back hits from Edgar Renteria and Ryan Raburn set up a two-run seventh that put the potential tying run on base, but Rafael Perez recovered to induce a Carlos Guillen double play to end the threat.
Between Verlander and the two relievers, the Tigers allowed as many runners on base with walks (six) and hit-by-pitches (two) as they surrendered hits (eight).
"Our bullpen walks too many guys," Leyland said. "We've done that all year long, and you can't win doing that. Walking guys, hitting guys, we've done that all year long. You can't do that."
It was an opportunity lost to take a series, and it was frustration continued for Verlander. Beyond his struggles in Cleveland, he's 4-8 against the Indians overall and 2-7 against the fellow division-rival White Sox.
After Verlander's loss to Chicago last week, Leyland wondered if he was too amped up. That wasn't the worry this time, but Leyland nonetheless worries about his ace -- not physically.
"He's a big concern," Leyland said. "He's got to figure some things out."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.