Boston — Among tasks Brad Ausmus handled early Sunday, well before the Tigers and Red Sox had an evening rematch at Fenway Park, was an intelligence request for the Tigers’ analytical sleuths at Comerica Park.
He wanted data fed into their computers that might explain why Justin Verlander throws so many pitches that are fouled off.
It’s a problem, of course, for the Tigers, and for Verlander, who expects to pitch deeply into games. But his last two starts have included 39-pitch innings and early exits.
The situation turned borderline fiendish in Saturday night’s 11-3 loss, in which the Red Sox spent much of their night deflecting Verlander’s pitches into Fenway’s seats.
“We’re kind of diving into it from an analytical standpoint,” Ausmus said. “We’re looking at usage, break, spin-rate, velocity — compared with the rest of the league.
“We’re open to anything if it will help.”
One particularly improbable at-bat was a 10-pitch portrait of Verlander’s uncanny ability, during much of 2017, to have pitches fouled off.
Of the 10 pitches thrown to Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon, all were strikes. Leon fouled pitch after pitch before finally striking out.
An inning earlier, Leon had a nine-pitch at-bat against Verlander. Again, there were fouls galore ahead of Leon’s ninth-pitch single.
The Tigers brass has been talking in earnest about why the foul phenomenon seems to be so particular to Verlander.
“I have a theory for one reason why,” said Ausmus, who wouldn’t offer details.
Verlander can’t explain it, either. Throwing more swing-and-miss pitches is an obvious goal. But his four-pitch repertoire has been strong, including his fastball, which runs 94-95 mph and often climbs a few ticks higher.
But batters too often are getting a piece, only a piece, of his pitches. And it’s driving the Tigers — and Verlander — nuts.
Ausmus again was asked Sunday: What’s up with Miguel Cabrera? His pre-game batting average was .263. His on-base percentage through 48 games: .369. His slugging percentage: 406, which computes to a fairly middling OPS of .775. Ausmus half-shrugged and said: “He’ll be fine.”
And then he wondered aloud during the pregame press briefing what Cabrera’s numbers might have been a year ago after 48 games. And Dan Dickerson, the Tigers play-by-play radio broadcaster, happened to have been researching those very stats earlier in the day.
He read them off to Ausmus: .313 batting average, .392 on-base, .559 slugging, which adds up to a more Cabrera-like .951 OPS.
More alarmingly, perhaps, Cabrera has five home runs in 2017. Through his first 48 games a year ago, Cabrera had 11.
“He’ll be all right,” Ausmus said, again knocking down thoughts there might be something physical grinding on Cabrera, and suggesting that Cabrera has gone through droughts before, only to return to being, well, a hitter who has crafted his own category of superstardom during 14 seasons in the big leagues.
Cabrera has not hit a home run since May 20. And the sudden disappearance of those old Cabrera drives that sailed against, or over, outfield fences has turned his at-bats all but unrecognizable in an extended cold streak.
Buck starts here
The Tigers have a day off ahead of a five-game homestand beginning Tuesday at Comerica Park. The only starter Ausmus would list for this week: Buck Farmer in Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks as the Tigers weigh various medical situations, including Jordan Zimmermann’s hamstring.