8/30/2014 2:30 P.M. ET
Curveball key to Verlander's win in opener
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Justin Verlander escaped a bases-loaded jam in his opening inning on Friday night with a 96-mph fastball past Tyler Flowers for a called third strike, which was a big deal for a pitcher whose velocity has been scrutinized all season.
The pitch that set it up, however, was an 80-mph curveball Verlander dropped into the strike zone to put him ahead of the count. In the big picture of Verlander's arsenal, that breaking ball was just as big of a deal.
"It definitely can throw guys off some of the other pitches," Verlander said afterwards. "It's always been a big pitch for me. It's nice to be able to execute it."
When Verlander was dominating hitters the previous few years, the curveball used to be a pretty good early-inning barometer of how Verlander would fare. If he was spotting the curveball, hitters were usually in trouble. If he wasn't, they at least had a fighting chance to sit on the fastball, whether it was mid-90s or better.
The numbers from STATS, Inc. show the difference this season. Verlander threw his curveball in the strike 45.7 percent of the time in 2011, 47.9 percent in 2012 and 50.9 last season. That rate is down to 43 percent this season. Considering the rate of swings and misses is about the same, it's the called strike that seems to be the difference.
That said, hitters are doing more damage with the pitch, as well, batting .254 off of it compared with .177 last year, .129 in 2012 and .136 in 2011.
Verlander threw 21 curveballs on Friday, second only to his fastball and threw 12 for strikes -- five of them called. He gave up two hits using it, but both were singles. It was encouraging for Verlander.
"My curveball was good, probably the best it's been in a while," Verlander said. "I was able to throw it for strikes when I wanted, was able to throw it as a chase pitch when I wanted. It had a good break to it. I got some big outs with it. Gave up a couple hits with it, but they weren't sharp hits."
Tigers designate Miller for assignment
CHICAGO -- For the second time in 24 hours, the Tigers had to cut a reliever who seemed to be in line for a September callup. This time, it was right-hander Justin Miller, who was designated for assignment on Saturday morning to make room for Kyle Ryan on the 40-man roster.
The Tigers signed Miller as a Minor League free agent last fall, taking a chance that his power fastball and nasty slider could make an impact two years removed from Tommy John surgery. The 27-year-old right-hander spent three different stints in Detroit this season -- most recently as a one-day callup in mid-August. But he never found a role, allowing seven earned runs on 14 hits over 12 1/3 innings in eight appearances. He struck out just five, while walking two.
The numbers were surprising, given Miller's dominant season at Triple-A Toledo, where he allowed just nine runs on 30 hits over 44 2/3 innings with 12 walks and 39 strikeouts.
The move further limits the number of extra relievers the Tigers will have available for callups once rosters expand on Monday. Detroit designated fellow Toledo righty Jose Ortega for assignment on Friday to make room for Evan Reed. At this point, their 40-man-roster options for bullpen help are Ian Krol, Melvin Mercedes, Chad Smith and Jose Valdez. Smith, who had a stint in Detroit this summer, was demoted to Double-A Erie two weeks ago, while Valdez has a 4.09 ERA as Erie's closer.
Manager Brad Ausmus said he was expecting to discuss potential September callups with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski between games during Saturday's day-night doubleheader.