JV, K-Rod trigger Ausmus' take on radar guns: Overrated

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander, RHP, age 33, 6-5, 235: A triceps injury cost him the first half of the season, but once he got healthy he proved he was still capable of anchoring a starting rotation. Over his last 11 starts he posted a 2.12 ERA and opponents hit just .194 against him. His fastball, again, was registering in the mid to upper 90s, but more importantly, he has become much more adept in the art of pitching. He studies scouting reports now and preys on hitter’s weaknesses.

Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager Brad Ausmus isn’t a fan of radar guns.

“Sometimes I wish radar guns were never invented,” he said before the Tigers' 10-6 Grapefruit League win over the Braves. “Radar guns don’t mean anything. Hitters will let you know how a guy is throwing.”

As if to prove his point, Tigers ace Justin Verlander pitched four scoreless, one-hit innings Tuesday with a fastball that stayed between 89 and 91 mph. He struck out five batters and dominated the Braves with an assortment of sliders, curveballs and off-speed pitches all with movement and precise location.

“I didn’t feel like the ball was coming out like it can,” said Verlander, who threw 61 pitches. “But it’s still just the third start of the spring. It’s not quite there yet. But with location and movement and keeping guys off-balance, I was able to pitch well.”

Francisco Rodriguez replaced Verlander in the fifth and threw six of his 12 pitches 85 mph or slower. His fastball was 89 mph. Yet, it was his second scoreless outing of the spring.

Baseball men: Raw numbers play second fiddle to wisdom

“People get so involved with the radar gun,” Ausmus said. “They think you have to throw hard to get outs. I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen plenty of guys that throw hard get shelled. Pitching is pitching. You still have to hit your spots and you still have to change speeds.”

To further illuminate his point, Bruce Rondon and Angel Nesbitt  two flame-throwers with upper-90s velocity  gave up five Braves runs. Jose Valdez, another mid- to upper-90s right-hander, gave up the sixth run.

Rondon had a miserable time getting through the sixth. He walked the first man he faced, gave up a hard-shot double off the glove of second baseman Tommy Field, allowed a run to score on a wild pitch and a second run on a sacrifice fly.

“His mechanics seemed out of whack today,” Ausmus said. “But that’s spring training. It’s like we talked about with hitters, one day you feel great, the next it’s like you haven’t picked up a bat in months. It’s the same for pitchers. That’s just part of it.”

Nesbitt gave up three runs and four hits in the eighth.

Both, unlike Verlander and Rodriguez, fell behind hitters and missed their spots with the fastball.

“It just comes with experience,” Verlander said, speaking of his own outing. “I wouldn’t say I am not a power pitcher any more. I still hit 99 last year. But it comes with experience. It’s been a while now where early in games I’ll be 90, 92, 93, just trying to get quick outs.

“You learn through the process. You learn to slow the game down and read swings and just see the game.”

Verlander will have three more spring starts to continue to build his arm strength.

Rodriguez, too, believes his arm strength is only at 70-75 percent after two outings.

“The velocity is not there yet, but the location is there,” Rodriguez said. “The release point is there. I have been able to manipulate the change-up the last two outings where I want to and how I want to.

“It’s just the extra gear on my fastball is not there yet.”

Ausmus would love for more young pitchers, Rondon included, to emulate Rodriguez’s cerebral approach to pitching.

“Kids are taught to look at the radar gun from the time they are 15,” he said. “From the time they are 15 years old all they want is to throw hard. Now we’re getting a bunch of guys who throw hard and don’t really understand pitching.

“The guys who throw hard and know how to pitch, those are the elite pitchers in the game.”

Ausmus hopeful V-Mart will be ready to DH by Saturday

The Tigers hitters got the bulk of their work in early off Braves starter Bud Norris. They got two in the first (leadoff double by Ian Kinsler) then batted around and scored four in the second.

J.D. Martinez has heated up. He blasted a three-run homer that landed beyond the left-center field wall. It was his fourth homer of the spring and third in four games.

In the seventh, James McCann hit an opposite-field grand slam.