Verlander’s bunt and ‘run’ draws good-natured jeers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander smiles as he tips his helmet to the crowd after dropping down a bunt against Phillies relief pitcher Elvis Araujo during the third inning. Verlander was out at first.

Clearwater, Fla. — Justin Verlander went out to the backfields at Tigertown with other starting pitchers Thursday to take some batting practice.

He knew he was going to be hitting against the Phillies here Saturday in preparation for his Opening Day interleague start at Miami against the Marlins. But after a few swings, equipment manager Jim Schmakel came running onto the field with orders from manager Brad Ausmus to stop swinging the bat.

Ausmus told him he would only be bunting in the game. He didn’t want to take any chances on Verlander getting hurt swinging for the fences in BP. Verlander continued to lobby for some actual swings and Ausmus remained resolute.

“I told Brad he was going to get me booed,” Verlander said after the Tigers’ 6-5 win over the Phillies Saturday.

Said Ausmus: “I told him, ‘I don’t care.’ I’ve been booed many times.”

Verlander was indeed booed, though it was good-natured and not as much for his bunt leading off the third inning, which he neatly dropped down the first baseline on a 1-2 pitch, but for the fact he didn’t run it out.

“I told him not to run,” Ausmus said. “I didn’t want him to come out of the box and tweak a hamstring because he was trying to beat out a bunt in a spring training game.”

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Verlander, who popped out in foul territory on his second bunt attempt, didn’t argue the don’t-run edict — especially on a hot (84 degrees) and humid day.

“I wasn’t going to waste too much energy when I was literally sacrificing myself with nobody on,” he said. “I was just up there to work on my bunting. And I got it down. I wasn’t going to expend any unnecessary energy.

“But thank God he didn’t throw the ball into the right-field corner.”

Verlander acknowledged the fans with a bow.

More important was Verlander’s work on the mound — which by his own assessment was, meh.

“Up and down,” he said. “The first couple of innings weren’t bad, then I ran into trouble. My location got off a little bit, but I was able to rein it back in.

“It was a step in the right direction. I got my pitches up (86, 58 strikes). The curveball was better. My slider wasn’t there. Overall not a bad day.”

He pitched five full innings, then was pulled in the sixth after allowing a two-strike leadoff double to Ryan Howard in the fifth. He allowed three runs and seven hits and struck out two.

“With his breaking ball, early on he was dragging his arm and was a little out front with his body,” Ausmus said. “But at the end, his breaking ball was good. He’s on track.”

Verlander’s fastball stayed steady between 91-93 mph. His slider and change-up never came around for him. He gave up a long home run to right field to Freddy Galvis on a 91 mph fastball.

His final spring start will be Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s a formality, I don’t think any start is a formality,” Verlander said. “There are some things I need to work on. I need to stay back and not rush my off-speed pitches. Just need to hone things in.

“Hopefully everything clicks. Today was pretty good until I lost it a little bit. I was falling behind too many hitters and wasting pitches. But part of that was because I was working on stuff, too.”

Twitter @cmccosky