Verlander fans 11 as Tigers win fifth straight
Righty settles down, receives plenty of support from Boesch
DETROIT -- Tigers ace Justin Verlander hadn't been happy with his breaking balls all year. Well, at least until Wednesday.
Verlander mixed his offspeed pitches with a hot-and-heavy fastball to keep the Nationals off balance all night en route to a season-high 11 strikeouts and an 8-3 Tigers victory at Comerica Park.
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
"That's just something that's been not quite there for me all year," Verlander said of his offspeed pitches. "I've been able to get some outs with it, but not the strikeouts. I felt like it really didn't look like a fastball coming out of my hand. There was a little loop out of it coming out of my hand. I think tonight, for the most part, I felt like I was able to throw it and have it look like a fastball coming out of my hand."
With Verlander (8-4) throwing upwards of 95 mph all night -- even touching 101 mph in the sixth -- his curveball and changeup were just too difficult to lay off.
He gave up solo home runs in the first and second innings, but rebounded quickly. Verlander didn't let the homers get to him. In fact, he said he'd rather see a well-hit ball go over the fence then have a blooper fall into a gap.
Verlander made it though eight innings, surrendering three earned runs on seven hits and no walks to improve his career record against National League teams to 11-1.
"His curveball was real sharp," catcher Gerald Laird said. "It was one of the better curveballs I've caught. ... That was huge for him because when he gets that offspeed stuff going, you can't just sit on that 95-98 mph fastball."
Wednesday's win marks yet another game where Detroit's starting pitching has looked strong. And it has looked especially dominant this series. In the two games against the Nationals, the Tigers have recorded 24 strikeouts.
It's come to the point where the starters are constantly trying to one-up each other. Armando Galarraga has the near perfect game, Max Scherzer has the 14-strikeout outing, and Verlander has, well, the consistency.
"Early in the season, we struggled as a staff," Verlander said. "Then we turned it around. We feed off each other. That's what staffs do. You get a bunch of guys who are able to go out there and get quality innings and keep our team in the game. It's just start, after start, after start. It's a snowball effect.
"We are all competitive guys. That's just the game of baseball and our personalities. It's fun when you are on a roll as a starting staff, whether you score eight, or two or three you have a chance to win."
Unlike several previous starts for Verlander this season, the offense provided some support for the ace. He didn't need much, but he got a hefty amount.
Rookie slugger Brennan Boesch blasted a three-run homer to deep right-center field in the seventh to put the game out of reach. As hot as the rookie has been, he said he wouldn't want to face a 101-mph fastball from Verlander.
"He's had that in his back pocket," Boesch said of Verlander's ability to increase his velocity as the game goes on. "I looked up and that's just JV for you. He can pull that out of his pocket and let it fly that late in the game. You can count on probably zero fingers other guys that can do that. It's pretty fun to play behind somebody that wants to win as bad as he does. I think that's contagious to the team, his competitive nature."
With the way Boesch has been swinging the bat -- going 3-for-4 to improve his average to .344 -- Verlander doesn't want anything to do with the rookie, either.
"I don't know," Verlander said when asked how he'd pitch to Boesch. "It's tough. I couldn't tell you. I'm glad he's not on the other team."
Early in the game, Verlander realized the Nationals were coming after his fastball. He had to make the adjustment to work in his offspeed pitches and commit to sticking with them.
"After the first couple innings, seeing how those guys were charging my fastballs, you have to make an adjustment," Verlander said. "Usually when I'm in a rhythm with my breaking ball for strikes, my fastball is good."
Verlander's offspeed pitches, surprisingly, were more potent than Nationals starter Livan Hernandez. Tigers skipper Jim Leyland managed Hernandez on the 1997 World Series champion Marlins squad and praised his former player before the game, calling him "a master pitcher."
But what he saw from Hernandez on Wednesday was not what he remembered. Hernandez walked a season-high six, three of which came in the second inning and led to Detroit posting a four-spot.
"He's obviously changed a little bit," Leyland said. "It was strange to see him walk those guys. That's not him. He has changed a little bit deeper into his career to try and get you out outside of the strike zone."
With the victory, Verlander earned his third straight win and lowered his ERA to 3.54. To Laird, the club's ace is just getting started this season.
"I've caught some good pitchers, and for starting pitchers, he's got to be right up there at the top," Laird said. "He's got tremendous stuff. The main thing is that it seems he gets better as the season goes. That's something that a lot of guys don't. He seems to get stronger the more innings he gathers up and better as the game goes. A lot of guys tend to wear down, but he tends to get stronger and his fastball gets better as he gets into the game."
Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.