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Tigers coach: Verlander working out delivery wrinkles

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Boston Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones felt like whatever issues Justin Verlander was having throwing from the stretch had been worked out before he took to the mound Friday against the Red Sox.

Verlander had been struggling to slow his delivery when he worked from the stretch. When his delivery speeds up, his command is lost. Opponents were hitting .358 with a 1.016 OPS against him out of the stretch.

"Over the last couple of years he's gotten into a couple of weird habits," Jones said.

Pitching through injuries caused a lot of those habits, including his struggles in the stretch.

"It's not uncommon for a pitcher," he said. "Especially nowadays when you've got more guys that can run and they are trying to be quicker to the plate. We don't want to let guys just steal, but our focus is, we want our pitchers to concentrate on the hitter."

Verlander's other issue has been getting outs in high-leverage situations. Opponents are hitting .412, 1.134 OPS, in those situations. Some of that overlaps with his problems out of the stretch, and some of it is Verlander reverting back to an old-mindset — trying to overpower hitters in tight spots.

Jones and Verlander had a talk about that this week.

"I told him, 'Listen, you used to throw 98 to 100 mph,'" Jones said. "'That was three or four years ago. Now everybody that comes out of a team's bullpen throws 95-97. These guys are used to seeing that. So when you rare back to get a little extra, it's 95 to 97, which is basically what everyone else is throwing.'"

Jones and manager Brad Ausmus believe his stuff is good enough that he doesn't have to worry about trying to reach back for extra velocity.

"If he can locate his pitches, he can be very successful," Ausmus said. "His velocity, his action on his breaking ball, his changeup, are all above average Major League pitches that should get major league hitters out on a consistent basis.

"But, like anyone else, he has to locate them."

Praising McCann

If he ever hit the rookie wall this season, he's crashed through it.

Catcher James McCann has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games, hitting .435 with six extra base hits and nine RBIs.

"He's going to be a very good major league catcher for a long time," Ausmus said. "He has a great aptitude for the game, he's very talented and physically, he's going to come into more power and hit more home runs."

Ausmus said that McCann, like most young hitters, is still trying to harness his strike zone. He still chases too many pitches.

"But he has a real simple approach and a good two-strike approach, so he will figure it out," he said. "In my mind, he'll be both a leader and an all-star at some point."

Around the horn
Jones reiterated what Ausmus had said previously — Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene are facing critical starts here Saturday and Sunday. "They are aware that they need to pitch better for us to get to the postseason," Jones said. "And it really needs to start now. We can't keep saying that we've got so many games left. Pretty soon we aren't going to have enough games left."

Tigers at Red Sox

First pitch: 4:05 p.m., Saturday

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1 FM, 1270 AM.

Scouting report

RHP Steven Wright (3-3, 4.84), Red Sox: This will be his sixth start of the season for the knuckleballer. His last one against the Angels, he allowed a career high six runs and six hits in five innings.

RHP Alfredo Simon (8-6, 4.63), Tigers: He has allowed at least four runs in his last six starts. He has lost the feel for his best pitch – the split-fingered fastball.

Twitter @cmccosky