Locked-in Pirates rough up Verlander, Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – The Pirates picked a good day to hunt fastballs at Comerica Park.

Normally, that would be problematic with Justin Verlander pitching. But it was like shooting fish in a barrel on Monday.

The Pirates had little regard for Verlander’s secondary pitches — which he was struggling to command, especially his slider — and were locked and loaded for his fastball. They banged out seven runs and 10 hits in 4⅓ innings against him — including a double in each inning — and held on for a 7-4 win.

BOX SCORE: Pirates 7, Tigers 4

“You have to give those guys credit, they battled,” Verlander said. “Each and every guy in their lineup seemed to be locked in. When guys are like that, you’ve got to really be on your game and execute, and I wasn’t today.”

The Tigers also lost starting catcher James McCann in the fifth inning. He sprained his right ankle on a close play at first base, an instant before he collided with Pirates first baseman John Jaso.

X-rays revealed a sprain, but the Tigers were waiting on results from an MRI. There is a chance McCann could go on the disabled list.

“Let’s not get overly concerned until we get the results back,” Verlander said. “Way too often in this game things like this look real bad and it ends up the other way.” 

Verlander was at 111 pitches with one out and runners at the corners when he was pulled in the fifth. It was just the second time in his career he’s thrown 100 pitches and not gotten through the fifth inning.

“He looked strong, maybe a little too strong,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “His velocity was good but he was up in the zone a lot and that happens when the arm is feeling good. It can be tough to get the ball down.

“It wasn’t a good day for Justin today but it’s not a concern going forward.”

Tigers fear McCann could be headed to DL

The cruising speed for Verlander’s fastball was 92-93 mph and he was hitting 94, 95 and 96. But he wasn’t missing many bats.

“It felt like they hit everything,” Verlander said. “I really don’t recall getting many swings and misses at all. It was kind of a snowball effect with a lineup like this, if they are locked in and they are putting good at-bats upon good at-bats, they are seeing a lot of pitches going through the lineup and it’s tougher to get them to fish or to get them out.” 

He needed 37 pitches in the second inning alone. A glaring indication of how well the Pirates were seeing the ball off of him, they fouled off 26 pitches in less than five innings, at least 10 in two-strike counts.

His secondary pitches simply weren’t good enough to concern the Pirates batters — either they took them or they hit them. 

Case in point:  With one out and the bases loaded in the second inning, Verlander got two quick strikes on Jordy Mercer. Then Mercer fouled off a 94 mph fastball, a curveball at 78, then two 95 mph fastballs before rapping a two-run single on a slider.

“He took a couple of those fastballs right out of McCann’s glove, then I left that slider up,” Verlander said.  

In the fourth inning, with runners on second and third and one out, Verlander got two quick strikes on John Jaso. He fouled off three 95 mph fastballs, worked the count to 3-2 and delivered a long sacrifice fly to center, hitting a 94 mph fastball.

“They are a good hitting team,” Ausmus said. “It’s not like we were playing a high school team out there.”

Former Tiger Matt Joyce, who is now 9-for-20 against Verlander in his career, doubled to lead off the third. In that at-bat, Verlander threw him a fastball and then three straight off-speed pitches (81, 81, 82). He sat on the last one and laced it into the gap.

“Obviously, you don’t want a start like today,” Verlander said. “But I want to stay positive. Historically, it takes a few starts to get rolling. April’s not been great for me historically, always a little up and down. But once it clicks, it goes.

“It’s a good sign that I am feeling good and the ball is coming out good.”

The Tigers didn’t go down without a fight, though. Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez each hit solo home runs off Pirates starter Jonathon Niese. 

The Tigers scored twice in the sixth, and left a couple of runners on the bases. Miguel Cabrera’s hard ground ball off the glove of Mercer at shortstop scored one run and a bloop single by Victor Martinez scored another. 

The tying run was at the plate for both J.D. Martinez (fielder’s choice) and Castellanos (fly out).

Turns out, that was the Tigers’ last gasp, as former Tiger Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson and Mark Melancon stoned them in the final three innings.

Twitter @cmccosky