Ausmus, Tigers keeping early power surge in perspective

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers pitcher  Justin Verlander pitched three scoreless innings in an 11-5 victory over the Nationals Wednesday.

Lakeland, Fla. — Halfway through spring training and Justin Verlander is liking what he’s seeing.

“Seeing guys healthy is a huge indicator,” Verlander said after throwing three scoreless, one-hit innings in the Tigers’ 11-5 win over the Nationals Wednesday. “This team is going to hit if they’re healthy. The numbers on the backs of their bubble gum cards are going to show up as long as guys are right.”

Verlander watched Ian Kinsler, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Miguel Cabrera all swat home runs against the Nats. Nate Schierholtz added a three-run shot in the seventh and Tyler Collins blasted one off the batter’s eye in center field, giving the Tigers an MLB-leading 18 home runs in 10 games this spring.

The Tigers have scored at least seven runs in five of 10 spring games.

Manager Brad Ausmus, though, isn’t popping any champagne.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in spring training statistics,” he said. “That’s been the line of the spring. I don’t think we need to see these guys hitting home runs to think this team is capable of that. We already know that, regardless of what they’ve done in 10 games this spring.”

The numbers aren’t the point; it’s what they are an indication of that matters more.

“The most encouraging thing is to see their health,” Verlander said. “Seeing Miggy with the pop in his bat again that we were so used to seeing when he wasn’t hurting. To see Victor Martinez moving well again. It was so blatantly obvious how much his lower half was bothering him last year.

“Seeing those guys healthy, that’s really good for us.”

One of the themes of this camp, emphasized by the veteran players as much as the coaches, is playing team baseball. Adhering to that theme may be another reason why Ausmus is downplaying the numbers.

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“We’ve talked a lot and the players, especially the veteran players, through their actions have backed up the idea that the most important thing is winning,” Ausmus said. “Not any individual statistics. We are here to try and win a championship and the only way to do that is as a team.”

Verlander mentioned the same thing.

“I was talking to a couple of guys about the vibe in here and how good it feels, especially after the bitter taste we all had from last year,” he said. “It's not fun losing. I thought we did as good a job as we could last year of keeping it from falling completely apart and having everybody turn on each other.

“Hopefully we can bring this atmosphere into a winning season. It would be a lot of fun for everyone involved."

Verlander ho-hummed his own performance.

“I got my pitches in,” he said. “As the spring progresses, it’s just being out there. Your consistency comes with throwing pitches in game situations.”

He threw 51 pitches against a lineup full of Nats regulars — including Ben Revere, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth. He gave up a double to Revere but stranded him at third when he got Harper to fly to left.

“I enjoy that,” Verlander said of facing the Nats starters. “You want to get feedback from big league hitters.”

Verlander’s velocity was down — his fastball topping out at 93, but staying steady at 89-91. His curveball, change-up and slider were good at times, though he was not satisfied.

“I wasn’t as sharp as I’d like,” he said. “My misses weren’t off, but they weren’t strikes, either. I got into deep counts as a result of not executing. But on the flip side, I wasn’t missing out over the plate, either.”

His best confrontation was against Werth in the second inning. He had him jumping out of the way of fastball on the outside corner, then swinging ugly at a slider. He struck him out swinging wildly at a curve ball.

“It’s spring training for those guys, too,” Verlander said. “It didn’t look like he was seeing the ball very well. That first pitch, you don’t normally see a guy taking like that. Maybe he was looking for something middle-in that he could turn and burn on. I threw him away and he just shut it down.”

Verlander said he thinks he’s got four more starts left this spring. He will probably extend to 65 pitches in his next outing.

“At this point in the spring you are kind of working over the hump,” he said. “There’s kind of that lull where, you know, everything is feeling good then you get into that five-day routine and your body goes, ‘Hold on, we need to work through this a little bit.’”