6/1/2014 12:33 A.M. ET
Joba proving to be a reliable eighth-inning guy
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- The mixing and matching in the eighth inning ended a while ago, the way Joba Chamberlain has been pitching. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus essentially formalized it Saturday.
With Robinson Cano lurking on Seattle's bench this weekend, held out of the lineup for a third consecutive game with a bruised left hand, that was a key distinction for Chamberlain, Cano's former teammate with the Yankees.
"I think he's earned that at this point," Ausmus said of the lefty-righty indifference.
Chamberlain has statistically had more success against left-handed hitters, including a .249 batting average for his career compared with .259 for right-handed batters. Even during his struggles last season, right-handers batted .295 off him compared with .257 for lefties.
The question would be more about whether Ian Krol would enter in a lefty-lefty situation in the eighth. That hasn't been the case.
Chamberlain entered Saturday having held opponents scoreless in his last nine appearances, and 15 of his last 16 games. In the latter stretch, Chamberlain has allowed two earned runs on 11 hits over 15 2/3 innings, walking five and striking out 17.
Left-handed hitters entered Saturday batting .233 (10-for-43) with two doubles, a triple, five walks and 13 strikeouts against him. Right-handed batters were hitting .267 (12-for-45) with two doubles, two walks and 16 strikeouts.
Verlander regains velocity, sharpness
SEATTLE -- Justin Verlander had done enough tweaking over the past few weeks. The pitching he delivered Friday night against the Mariners looked a little like a return to basics, pounding the strike zone with fastballs to set up the rest of his pitches. For Verlander, it was an inning-by-inning approach.
He felt good throwing between starts, but he was also wary of the big inning that had crippled him a few other times this month. Thus, he didn't allow himself to let off.
"You just ride the flow of the game," Verlander said. "You just see how things are going. You never know when things can turn at this level. Things happen quickly. You can't let your guard down for one second."
The result was some of his best numbers this season, centered around a fastball that not only had velocity, but location. He threw fastballs with 55 of his 120 pitches at an average of just over 95 mph, according to data from MLB.com's Gameday application and brooksbaseball.net. Of those 55 fastballs, 34 went for strikes, and 26 of those were classified as strikes not put in play. That included six swings and misses.
"That was the point the whole game," Verlander said of pounding the strike zone. "I've been walking too many guys. It's not like I was intentionally walking guys. I was just inconsistent. Not saying by any means that this was perfect and we're going to go forward from here -- that's not the way this works -- but it shows me that the stuff I've been working on was definitely helping. I was able to pound the zone with good stuff."
He started out throwing his fastball hard, hitting 95 in the opening inning, and kept it there, peaking at 98 late in the game. The rest of his pitches followed from there -- 20 out of 26 changeups for strikes, 13 of 21 sliders, and 11 of 18 curveballs.
"I think my rhythm was much better, my consistency was much better and my stuff was a lot better," Verlander said. "That's a good sign in and of itself."
He went to three-ball counts on all three hitters in the middle of the Mariners order -- Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager -- his first time through the lineup, but had only one other three-ball count. That was the fourth-inning walk to Smoak, which he paid for two pitches later with a Seager home run. That, he said, was a fastball he wanted in on Seager's hands but left down for him to extend his arms and pull the ball with power.
"Typical lefty pitch, down and in," Verlander said. "He just dropped the hands on it."
The way Verlander responded from there was impressive, putting Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley in 0-2 counts from there. Zunino escaped with a hit-by-pitch, but Ackley took a called third strike.
"He attacked the hitters," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He wasn't tiptoeing around anyone. He went after them."
That was enough for Ausmus. With 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball, a walk and seven strikeouts, that was plenty -- not just for Ausmus, but for the sometimes perfectionist Verlander.
"This is my ninth year in baseball. There's going to be bumps in the road. It's never going to be just excellence," Verlander said. "That's one of the great things about being able to look to the next one, not dwelling on the last one, or past two, or past three or past 10. Whatever you have to work on to get ready for your next one and hopefully give your team a chance to win is what you need to focus on."
Davis showing unexpected power for Tigers
SEATTLE -- Rajai Davis has never hit more than eight home runs in a season. He's already halfway there.
The only season Davis had four home runs by the All-Star break was 2012. His home run Friday night off Seattle lefty Charlie Furbush put him there by the end of May.
Between four home runs and nine doubles, Davis entered Saturday with a .433 slugging percentage that would rank as a career best. He has never even slugged for a .400 rate in a season, and his career mark stands at .369.
"It's kind of untapped power being released in the right conditions, with the right personnel around," Davis said.
For someone who was expected to be a platoon player when the season began, it's quite a start.
"Really, I wasn't expecting him to play this much against righties," manager Brad Ausmus said. "The injury to [Andy] Dirks forced our hand a little bit, and then he's handled himself really well.
"He's got power. If you watch him take batting practice, he's got power."
It's not something Davis is specifically trying to do. He takes an all-fields approach in batting practice, focusing on line drives, yet he's a speedster with more fly balls than ground balls every season.
"It just kind of happens, just putting my body in the best position to hit," Davis said.
V-Mart a good source of protection for Miggy
SEATTLE -- Miguel Cabrera's intentional walk Friday night was just his third of the season, and just the second with Victor Martinez hitting behind him. Cabrera had more intentional passes at the same point the last two seasons with Prince Fielder batting behind him.
That says a lot about opponents' opinions about Martinez. Cabrera, for his part, says many of the same things.
"That's a typical Victor at-bat," Cabrera said of Martinez's ensuing three-run home run. "He always goes deep into the count, fouling balls off. And if you make a mistake around the zone, he always makes sure to hit the ball. That's what he does.
"When you go deep into the count, work the count, you let the pitcher make mistakes. When you fight in an at-bat, when you don't give away at-bats, something good is going to happen."
Martinez is 1-for-2 after Cabrera's intentional walks. The other intentional walk happened during an Interleague series in San Diego on April 12, when Austin Jackson was hitting behind Cabrera. Jackson followed with a two-run double.
• Cabrera's two-run homer Friday was the 374th of his career, tying him with former Tiger Rocky Colavito for 72nd on Major League Baseball's all-time list. Colavito hit 139 of his home runs in a Detroit uniform from 1960-63. Most of his home runs, 190 of them to be exact, came as a Cleveland Indian.
Cabrera moved past Colavito with a solo homer on Saturday night. Carlton Fisk is up next on the list with 376 career home runs.
• Former Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman paid a visit to the Tigers clubhouse on Saturday. Bonderman had ties to both teams at Safeco Field last season, embarking on a comeback effort that landed him in the Mariners rotation before the Tigers signed him at last year's All-Star break for bullpen work. He has not pitched anywhere this season, and it's not clear whether he intends to pitch again.