Tigers cruise in KC behind Verlander
Detroit hitters pound out 19 hits in series-opening win
KANSAS CITY -- Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander doesn't pitch to the score. He just makes it look worse for his opponent.
And as Verlander took the mound for the fifth inning with a touchdown-sized lead over the Royals on a day when it looked like it could rain at any time -- and eventually poured -- it had to have looked miserable.
"You can tell when he gets a lead, he gets stronger," catcher Gerald Laird said after Monday's 13-1 Detroit victory. "When you're a team facing a guy like that and you've fallen behind three, four, five runs, that makes your at-bats that much tougher to get back into the game."
If Monday's 13-1 Tigers victory was a statement score in their clash against their closest competitor in the American League Central, Verlander provided everything but the exclamation mark. As great as Kansas City's Zack Greinke has been this season, Verlander is taking on that kind of presence every time he takes the mound for Detroit.
His 0.85 ERA in his last six starts still can't match Greinke's 0.82 ERA for the season, but his 5-0 record and 60 strikeouts over 42 1/3 innings in that span means plenty. Not only has he not allowed a home run since April 22 against the Angels, he has allowed just three extra-base hits of any sort in that span.
Verlander allowed one runner into scoring position Monday, and after a visit from pitching coach Rick Knapp, he set up Mike Jacobs for an inning-ending strikeout, mixing breaking balls and changeups for three pitches before firing three straight fastballs at 97 mph or higher. Jacobs watched the first two trail off the outside corner before he tried in vain to catch up with the 98-mph pitch over the plate.
That was the Royals' lone scoring chance against Verlander before Coco Crisp tripled and scored off Zach Miner in the eighth. Once Clete Thomas' two-run single fueled a three-run fifth to extend Detroit's lead, Verlander retired eight of the final 10 batters he faced. About the only thing that stood between Verlander and a complete-game shutout was his pitch count, and it had more to do with his totals from his past few times out than the 96 pitches he threw Monday.
"One thing that strikes me in his last few games is when we take a lead, he goes out and shuts them down immediately," bullpen coach Jeff Jones said. "And that's huge. It seems like every time we take a lead and he's on the mound, he has a very quick inning the next time. It really helps break their spirit and helps you get back in the dugout."
Verlander insists his mentality doesn't change to the situation. Whether he's up a bunch of runs and cruising, or trying to strand a couple runners, his mentality to keep going after hitters remains. It changed once his roll began, he said, and he has kept it up.
"I would say I'm more aggressive -- not necessarily in my pitch selection, just my mentality," Verlander said. "I don't know how to explain it. That's just how I feel."
Verlander (5-2) used back-to-back curveballs to strike out Jacobs in the second inning, then fired four straight fastballs past Mark Teahen. He struck out Teahen on a curveball his next time up in the fifth before two breaking balls and a slider sent down Willie Bloomquist two batters later.
"[Verlander] had guys out today on changeups," Laird said. "He had guys out on curveballs. He had guys out on fastballs. You can't go up there guessing with him. He knows what he wants to do, and obviously, he's doing it right."
With that, Verlander improved to 8-1 in 12 career starts against the Royals.
Meanwhile, Detroit's offense erupted after manager Jim Leyland made a point to say that his team's veteran hitters have to produce for this team to succeed. Miguel Cabrera rebounded from his 2-for-11 series over the weekend with three hits, two runs and an RBI. He started a string of four straight singles in a three-run fifth that put Detroit clearly in command.
Not since 1995 had these two teams met this far into the season with .500 records or better, but the Tigers' victory sent Kansas City back under the break-even mark and restored Detroit's lead in the division standings to four games.
This extra game in the standings was all about Verlander.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.