Verlander takes positives from start
Tigers right-hander likes the way he felt against Yankees
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander threw well over 50 pitches in his two innings of work Wednesday. More than 30 of those came in a second inning that featured three straight walks. Yet the focus for Verlander and Tigers manager Jim Leyland, they said, was on the way he was throwing them.
"I definitely feel like today was a lot better than the statistics show," Verlander said after his outing.
His focus wasn't on the statistics, but the mechanics. A tweak with pitching coach Rick Knapp is meant to get Verlander more under control and throwing more downhill off the mound. That, in turn, could give him a better chance at not going deep into counts as often and keeping his pitch counts down.
Now comes the difficult part of putting it into action. That's where it wasn't easy for Verlander on Wednesday, when his fourth outing of this Spring Training ended up being shorter innings-wise than his previous two.
Five days after the Yankees put Verlander consistently behind in counts last Friday night at Steinbrenner Field, their hitters made Verlander work Wednesday. He went to three-ball counts on New York's first two batters and put the first three on base with a walk and two singles. He recovered to retire the side in order from there, with two runs scored, but was in for a longer second inning.
After Angel Berroa reached on an error and scored on a tough hopper that bounced off third baseman Brandon Inge, Verlander went from 0-2 to full counts on Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon. Cabrera hit a grounder for the second out; Damon drew a walk to extend the inning.
Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada walked from there, the latter driving in a run. Verlander fell behind on Nick Swisher before battling back to strike him out swinging for the final out.
That ended Verlander's outing with four runs allowed, two earned, on three hits and four walks. He struck out two. In terms of incorporating his adjustments into his mechanics, he felt more positive.
"There were a lot of walks," Verlander said, "but in between, there were a lot of pitches that I'm really the only one that knows how they felt. I think the way the ball was coming out of my hand was probably the best it's come out in a year or so. I felt like it was jumping out pretty good."
Verlander's mechanical focus is on a better landing on his front side, bending his knee to get him throwing more downward instead of throwing against a stiff knee. To get to the point where he's doing that regularly and ingraining it into his muscle memory, he might have to take some more statistical struggles.
"I felt like it was a good step forward," Verlander said. "But sometimes it felt good and sometimes I felt I went back to the old way."
Leyland, who has said that he doesn't put too much stock into Spring Training statistics with most players, is on board with the idea. He said they noticed Verlander's flaw with his front leg last season.
Mechanically, Leyland said, Verlander's second inning was better than his first, when he seemed to be fighting the change.
"I felt like he was starting to get the hang of it," Leyland said. "It's something he'll have to continue to do on the side, in the bullpen, and take it to the mound."
Leyland believes it'll happen, whatever the statistics.
"I feel real good about him today," Leyland said. "I'm not worried about him at all. It's a project and process, but I'm not worried about that. We have plenty of time to get that all ironed out."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.