Justin Verlander was unruffled by going 0-for-3 against the Diamondbacks on Monday night. 'My at-bats were pretty quality tonight,' he said. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Phoenix – What you see in 2014 is a man having fun, which isn’t something anyone anticipated from Justin Verlander.
Not when he is batting, anyway.
But during Monday night’s 4-3 victory over the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, a triumph Verlander helped deliver by way of his more prominent skill, pitching, he had three good at-bats.
And one of those was very good.
In the second inning, with two out and Rajai Davis on base, Verlander tore into a Vidal Nuno fastball and hit it deep to left field before Mark Trumbo snared it.
It looked initially as if Verlander was about to add a home-run ball to his Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player trophy case. But the ball died and Verlander returned to the mound to work his day job.
“Just missed it,” said Verlander, who was having fun, parroting stock hitters’ lines as he reviewed his night at the plate.
Verlander was out on a hard ground ball to the pitcher in the third and slapped another ground ball in the sixth that third baseman Martin Prado handled.
“I’m seeing the ball well, I’m just not coming away with anything,” Verlander quipped, reciting every post-game hitter’s lament he has heard in his nine years in the big leagues. “My at-bats were pretty quality tonight. I did manage to put the ball in play.”
Verlander had never had a big-league hit until April, when he had a 2-for-3 day against the Padres at San Diego.
He is now batting .333 rather than the .667 he was carrying into Monday’s contest, his fourth, fifth, and sixth at-bats of 2014.
“I wouldn’t classify this as a slump,” Verlander said, rolling with the shtick. “I’m getting good swings. I just don’t have anything to show for it.”
He paused for a moment. He talked about his night and his healthy cuts against Nuno and the Diamondbacks relievers.
“You have to remember,” he said, loving this testament to tongue-and-cheek, “some of these guys are seeing me for the first time.”
Austin Jackson’s home run and double Monday made it four consecutive games with multiple hits, an 8-for-14 run that has pushed Jackson’s batting average to .266.
His third-inning homer was a high-altitude drive deep into the left-field bleachers. It was his first homer since May 23.
“He seems to be catching the ball earlier, and in front of his bat, where he should be hitting the ball,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after his leadoff batter helped account for half of the Tigers’ runs.
Jackson is back at his traditional leadoff spot following three months of duty deeper in Ausmus’ order. Since he returned to the top spot, on July 6, Jackson is 19-for-48, good for a .396 average.
It wasn’t only Joe Nathan who helped safeguard Monday’s victory, courtesy of a solid ninth inning, good for his 20th save of 2014.
Nathan’s predecessors were at least as sharp. Joba Chamberlain, whose ERA sits at 2.43, had a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Al Alburquerque arrived with two out in the seventh and put away the Diamondbacks on a hit and a ground-out.
“It was really important for Albie to get us out of that inning,” Ausmus said, speaking of the seventh.
The Diamondbacks got two hits and a walk in the seventh but never scored, in part because catcher Bryan Holaday picked off Ender Inciarte as he took too long of a stroll from first.
But there were still two batters aboard, with two out, when Alburquerque ended issues by getting Paul Goldschmidt to hit into a force-out grounder to Cabrera at third.
Chamberlain had his customary flawless eighth, thanks to two ground-outs and a strikeout.
“By far our most consistent pitcher, across the board,” Ausmus said of Chamberlain, who has become the Tigers eighth-inning exterminator.