St. Petersburg, Fla. — There can be no setbacks to a shoulder that continues to mend, but Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander said Wednesday he will end his hiatus and start one game of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader against the Twins at Target Field.
Buck Farmer, the Triple-A Toledo right-hander who made a spot start earlier this month for the Tigers, will work Saturday’s other game, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday.
“I don’t want to say everything’s perfect now,” said Verlander, who has not pitched since Aug. 11 because of right shoulder inflammation. “But it’s about as good as it could hope to be.”
Verlander threw lightly Tuesday at Tropicana Field, where the Tigers were getting ready Wednesday for the second game of a three-game series against the Rays. He said a positive “next-day” report, measured by an absence of pain, would enable him to throw a regular bullpen side session Thursday and be ready to return to Detroit’s starting rotation Saturday.
That plan, tentatively blessed by Ausmus, is in place. Ausmus could even see a sliver of upside Wednesday to Verlander’s unwanted vacation.
“The time off might be better than anything else,” Ausmus said.
Verlander says the inflammation in his right shoulder was a response to a change in delivery and alignment adopted because of age and mechanical issues he has been attempting to sort out and realign.
“My body is working differently,” said Verlander, who six months ago turned 31. “It’s an effort to have everything fire correctly, which they think caused a lot of issues in my shoulder. Your body compensates.
“From what I understand, it’s the wear and tear you expect to see from any power pitcher.”
Verlander in 2011 was the American League’s Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner. Two years ago, he narrowly lost out to his current teammate, David Price, as that year’s Cy Young winner.
But Verlander has had an uneven, at best, past two seasons. And his 2014 experience has been one of the most trying in his 10 seasons as a big-leaguer. Verlander is 10-11 with a 4.76 earned-run average. His career ERA is 3.52.
“My routine has been thrown a little out of whack,” said Verlander, who will have gone 12 days between starts if he pitches as planned Saturday. “But it’ll be business as usual.”
With their 6-0 victory Wednesday over the Rays, a shutout engineered by Rick Porcello, the Tigers moved to within a game of the first-place Royals, who lost at Colorado, and a game ahead of the Mariners in the race for a second wildcard playoff spot.
A Tigers team that had also lost 10 of its last 12 road games has now won the first two in a seven-game trip that moves to Minnesota following Thursday’s (1:10 p.m.) rematch against the Rays.
This will not be your conventional series finale, at least not for the Rays and their fans. David Price, who had become something of a baseball deity during his years with Tampa Bay, will start for the Tigers three weeks after Detroit got Price in a July deadline deal.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was candid and complimentary when he talked about Porcello’s effort Wednesday against the Rays batters.
“Poof — from the side, it looked like a Wiffle Ball,” Maddon said. “It’s like playing in your backyard and the ball’s just doing all kinds of weird things.
“He only punched out four batters (strikeouts), but he really elicited weak contact. We hit a couple of balls, but, for the most part, a lot of ground-ball outs. That’s what he is. He pitched really well.”
As much as Porcello starred Wednesday, it was also Victor Martinez’s night as he drove a Kirby Yates’ fastball against the upper bank of seats deep in right field, good for his fourth career grand slam.
Martinez also had an RBI double. The five RBIs — his career best is a seven-RBI game — give him 79 for the season. It’s the fifth consecutive season he has knocked in at least 75 runs. Martinez had 83 RBIs in 2013.
Of the 1-2 pitch Martinez hammered for his grand slam, Yates said: “I tried to throw it up and I didn’t get it up. He’s a great hitter and that’s what he does, especially in a situation like that.
“I knew it was gone as soon as it left my hand.”
Kevin Rand, the Tigers head trainer, offered updates on a long list of injured Tigers and their status with five weeks remaining in the 2014 regular season.
Joakim Soria, right-handed reliever: Still healing from an oblique strain, Soria is “doing very well,” Rand said. Soria played catch early this week as a means of monitoring his progress. Results, so far, have been promising. But neither Rand nor Soria would estimate when an indispensable back-end reliever might next pitch in a game.
Andy Dirks, outfield: Dirks, disabled since he underwent March back surgery, has been shut down, Rand said, and has returned to the team’s Lakeland, Florida complex to continue rehabilitation. Hamstring issues with his left leg have all but officially ended his 2014 season.
Bruce Rondon, right-handed reliever: He was lost at the same time as Dirks and is now five months removed from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow. “No complications,” Rand said, explaining that Rondon is throwing lightly as he continues his rehabilitation at Lakeland.
Luke Putkonen, right-handed reliever: Putkonen hasn’t pitched in a game since April 19. That might be changing. He has joined the team and is throwing 30-pitch bullpen sessions. The Tigers are keeping watch and aren’t ruling out a return, perhaps soon.
Jose Iglesias, shortstop: Another of the team’s indispensable players when the season began, Iglesias is gone for 2014 and will have his next comprehensive examination in Colorado on Sept. 9. He has been recovering for the past six months from stress fractures in each of his shins.
Hot to go
J.D. Martinez entered Wednesday’s game against the Rays on an 8-for-19 blitz (.421), which rivaled his 14-game hitting streak in June. Martinez was batting .306, with 17 home runs and 55 RBIs. He was hit by a mid-season cold front, but Martinez’s overall numbers reflect the general consistency of his 2014 season (73 games).
“I was never worried that it was that kind of decline,” Ausmus said, speaking of the Tigers outfielder’s cooler July. “It wasn’t a .320 to zero thing.
“Hitters go into slumps. I wasn’t concerned that he was ever gonna fall off the map. It’s nice having his bat and having him swing so well in that fifth or sixth spot.”
Martinez hit a long home run, well past the center field fence at Tropicana Field, in Tuesday night’s 11-inning, 8-6 victory. He also singled. Martinez turns 27 Thursday and appears en route to becoming a serious part of the Tigers’ 2015 outfield plans.