Indianapolis — After 10 years in the major leagues, Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander has experienced almost everything.
On Sunday, he had a first — playing for a Triple-A team, the Toledo Mud Hens.
Verlander, who moved from Double-A to the Tigers for his M:B debut in 2005, pitched for the first time in the 2015 regular season, doing a rehab start as the Mud Hens faced the Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field.
The outing wasn't vintage Verlander, as he struggled with his command and got through just 2.2 innings before he reached his target pitch count of about 80 pitches.
In his first start since he injured his triceps in late March, Verlander lacked command, throwing 79 pitches with 50 strikes. He allowed three runs on six hits with two walks, three strikeouts and hit one batter.
"I got my pitch count up," Verlander joked. "I felt all right and there were no issues with where I was injured. Obviously, I would have liked to be more consistent in the strike zone but overall, I think the bottom line is being healthy and I felt healthy."
Verlander hit 96 mph with his fastball, but struggled with his location, yielding a couple of walks to the bottom of the Indians' order.
It's unclear whether Verlander will have another rehab start or if he'll rejoin the Tigers — who have a three-game series against the A's beginning Tuesday and three games at the White Sox starting Friday.
"It's a matter of how I feel. My preference isn't to make another (rehab start)," Verlander said. "I want to help the team in any way I can."
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said he wasn't sure what the next step for Verlander would be but hinted there could be more work before he returns to the Tigers rotation.
"I would think he would get one more rehab start — but that ain't my decision," Parrish said.
Sunday's rehab start was a progression in Verlander's anticipated return to the Tigers this month. He threw a 70-pitch simulated game in Oakland on Tuesday and the next step depends on how his body feels Monday.
From all indications, though, Verlander said he felt fine after Sunday's start, just as he did following Tuesday's outing.
"Normal as I can expect from going two months without pitching and then going into a game. You're not going to feel perfectly in sync, but my body feels good," he said.
Although he didn't look sharp Sunday, Verlander wasn't aided by the Mud Hens defense. After a 20-pitch scoreless first inning, he needed 36 pitches to get through the second.
He gave up a one-out single in the second and walked the next two hitters. After a strikeout, Verlander looked to get out of the inning without giving up a run, but shortstop Dixon Machado lost sight of a pop up and two runs scored — and it was scored a double.
Verlander hit the next batter, Keon Broxton, before getting former Tiger Steve Lombardozzi to line out to end the inning. The extended second inning — with six pitches added after the misplay by Machado — pushed his count to 56 through two innings.
In the third, Verlander gave up back-to-back singles to start before striking out Jaff Decker on three pitches. Another misplay — this time on a late jump by center fielder Daniel Fields on a fly ball — yielded another extended inning for Verlander.
His outing was finished after a sacrifice fly by former Tigers prospect Gorkys Hernandez with two outs.
Verlander wasn't happy with his pitching mechanics, which he said was the biggest cause of his struggles. Most of his fastballs were more than 90 mph and many reached 93 mph and above, but he didn't control them well.
"It was more mechanical," Verlander said. "Inconsistencies throughout all the mechanics don't really allow you to repeat as well as you'd like. A lot of that comes from being the first time in a game and the first time really amping it up."
Said Parrish: "He threw some good pitches but he wasn't consistent and looked like he hadn't been out there in a while. We had a couple plays we didn't make on the field and that led to the runs."