May 31, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Justin Verlander appeared to regain his form in Tigers' opening victory over Mariners

After allowing 16 runs on 28 hits and nine walks in his previous three starts, two of which he lost, Justin Verlander allowed three runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings while striking out seven on Friday. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Seattle — When Justin Verlander pitches like Justin Verlander, in how many ways is it noticeable?

On Friday night, in a 6-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners, the answer was “at least four.”

It was noticeable:

1) In the way Verlander went after hitters.

2) In his early velocity.

3) In the more aggressive way he kicked dirt off the rubber with that pronounced side-to-side motion of his foot. That can be a barometer in itself about how confident Verlander feels.

“Is there a stat for that?” laughed manager Brad Ausmus. “But he should (feel confident). He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. The best pitchers generally aren’t insecure when they go out there.”

4) In the determined way he protected a three-run lead when Victor Martinez’s epic 10th-pitch home run gave him one.

In any event, there’s reason to think Verlander has righted whatever he was doing wrong — and that he has returned to being in charge again.

“I was glad to see him prove me right,” Ausmus said. “I didn’t think those (three) earlier starts were an indicator of the kind of pitcher he is.

“His velocity was good out of the gate. He attacked the hitters. He wasn’t tiptoeing around anyone. He went after them.”

After allowing 16 runs on 28 hits and nine walks in his previous three starts, two of which he lost, Verlander allowed three runs on five hits in 723 innings while striking out seven.

It was his longest outing since he lasted eight innings in his second start of the season.

It was the first time in five starts he allowed fewer hits than the number of innings he pitched.

It was his lowest walk total since he walked one in San Diego in his third start of the season.

And it was the first time in five starts he struck out more than five, tying his second-most of the season.

Ausmus doesn’t equate Verlander’s improved velocity with “going after hitters,” though.

“It is more a frame of mind,” Ausmus said. “I know guys who don’t throw 95, but they go right after hitters. There are different approaches. There are guys who try to get hitters to chase something they don’t want, and there are pitchers who go after hitters with the thought, ‘You can’t hit me.’

“That’s the (Verlander) we saw tonight. In most starts, he’s hitting 95-96, but he was more consistent with his velocity this time. He maintained better velocity throughout the outing, but it’s not as if he exceeded what it had been in other outings.”

Verlander didn’t take anything for granted, though.

“You never know when things can turn at this level,” he said. “But my rhythm was much better, my consistency was much better and my stuff was a lot better. That’s a good sign.”

No ifs ...

... Ands or buts.

Joe Nathan did not pitch in a save situation on Friday night because “he had pitched on four of five days,” Ausmus said. “It had nothing to do with Oakland whatsoever.”

But no qualms going to Joba Chamberlain when Nathan’s no available?

None.

“He’s been outstanding for us since that Dodger game when he came in. From that point on, he’s pitched exceedingly well.”

Since April 9, Chamberlain has a 1.79 ERA in 22 appearances. In his last nine appearances, though (823 innings), he’s been unscored upon.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com
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