Lakeland, Fla. — James McCann probably summed up Justin Verlander’s day the best.
“Overall, he probably didn’t have his best stuff today,” said McCann, who caught Verlander’s five innings of work Sunday. “But take Bryce Harper out of the equation and he pitched a pretty good game.
“You’re going to tell me he’s not going to have his best stuff and that’s the kind of outing he’s going to have? You’ve got to take that.”
Verlander needed 74 pitches to get through five innings in the Tigers come-from-behind 7-6 win over the Nationals in a split-squad game. He allowed three runs and six hits — two very long ones by Harper.
“I got through it with minimal damage, I guess,” Verlander said. “Unless you count the distance.”
In the first inning Harper hit an 84 mph slider beyond the visitor’s bullpen in right-center field. In the fifth, he hit a 94 mph fastball over the batter’s eye in center field — well beyond the 420-foot marker.
“Everything was up,” Verlander said. “I felt pretty good, but the fastball, all the off-speed pitches were just elevated. The first one (Harper hit) was a slider up and in the middle and the second was a fastball up and away — and I know he loves the ball there.
“I need to execute better.”
There was some discussion during the game and afterward about the velocity on his fastball. It was reading on the stadium radar gun anywhere from 87 to 94. The discussion, more correctly, was about the validity of the radar gun.
“I don’t pay attention to this gun,” he said. “I throw one and it says 93, I throw the same pitch and it says 87. I know that’s not right. It’s more about the execution. The velocity comes with innings.”
Gene Lamont, who managed while Brad Ausmus was at Disney with the other squad, said the scouts’ guns had significantly higher readings on his fastball.
“His velocity was fine,” Lamont said. “He threw fine. You make mistakes. He made two bad pitches to a really good hitter, one of the best power hitters in the game, and he took advantage of them.”
McCann said Verlander quizzed him a couple of times about the velocity.
“He asked me what I thought and I said it didn’t seem like it was coming out 88 or 89,” McCann said. “It seemed harder. But I told him, hitters are going to tell you. A couple of guys had good swings, but the majority weren’t making good contact.”
Verlander certainly had Jayson Werth’s number. He struck him out twice, on six pitches. The second time he had him swinging wildly at three straight curves.
He will make two more spring starts before getting the ball in the season opener at Miami.
“I’d like to go longer than five innings,” he said. “I was supposed to go 75 or 80 (pitches) today. I haven’t been good all spring at getting ahead and putting guys away, or getting ahead and inducing quick outs.
“I’d like to be better, and again, that comes with consistency and locating pitches.”
It was a rough outing for Drew VerHagen, too. He came in after the Tigers tied it 3-3 and allowed three runs and five hits in 1⅔ innings. He gave up a long home run to Clint Robinson.
“It looked like his control wasn’t very good,” Lamont said. “He was behind and he’d been pitching ahead real well. You are going to have days like that, but he’s been outstanding this spring.”
The Tigers were down 6-3 entering the bottom of the eighth and scored four times off former Tigers farmhand Burke Badenhop. Mike Gerber rapped an RBI double, Jordany Valdespin knocked one in with a single and Dominic Ficociello plated two with an opposite-field double.
Tigers 8, Braves 2: In the other split-squad game, at Disney, the Tigers got another solid start from Shane Greene. He allowed a run and three hits in five innings. He struck out four.
The Tigers jumped all over Braves starter Bud Norris, scoring five in the first. Tyler Collins had a two-run triple.