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Verlander puts in the work but won’t overreact to bad start

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander

Pittsburgh – You understand why Justin Verlander would get exasperated by the line of questioning. He’s just two starts into a new season – one start was good, one was bad. This is a former Cy Young Award winner, a former MVP with a 12-year track record.

He could have easily gone all Allen Iverson with the media. What are we talking about here, man? My bullpen? Practice? Are we talking about practice?

We were indeed talking about his between-starts bullpen on Wednesday. He was banged around by the Pirates on Monday (10 hits, seven runs in 4.1 innings). His breaking balls were lifeless and virtually scoffed at by the Pirates hitters.

It appeared that his bullpen session Wednesday was more intense than usual. It was observed by manager Brad Ausmus, which doesn’t normally happen, along with pitching coach Rich Dubee.

That, the adjustments he was trying to make, was the point of interest, more than just perseverating on one bad start.

“It was a normal bullpen,” Verlander insisted before the game Thursday. “If a couple things could’ve gone my way (Monday), nobody is talking about anything. It would have been a decent game and we might’ve won. But everything that could go wrong did go wrong and it ended up being a really bad game and now everybody is talking about it.

“I know my off-speed stuff wasn’t great so I worked on it in the bullpen. It’s the normal process.”

What Tigers didn’t know might have helped them

Verlander did admit the session was longer than most and it involved mechanical tweaks and a lot of discussion with both Ausmus and Dubee. Improving his curveball and finding the slider were the points of emphasis.

“The slider definitely needs to get better,” Verlander said. “That’s always the last pitch to come for me. That’s the pitch, when I get a good feel for it, OK, I can throw it for a strike when I want to and I can throw it to make them chase for a ball. Now it’s in-between. My chases are way off and my strikes are lazy.”

He said he did sense the Pirates hitters were ignoring his off-speed pitches and hunting his fastballs on Monday. But that’s on him to change, he said.

“It’s easy for guys to talk and say they’re just not going to swing at my off-speed pitches,” he said. “It’s totally different to do it in the game. If my off-speed stuff is good, they’re going to swing at it.”

The slider, Verlander said, is a nice weapon for him, but it’s not a make-or-break pitch.

“It’s just one of four,” he said. “Ideally, you’d like to have everything working. It’s early. But when the curve and slider aren’t working at all, I need to get better.”

His next start is Saturday in Houston.

ON DECK: ASTROS

Series: Three games at Minute Maid Park.

First pitch: 8:10 p.m. Friday; 7:10 p.m. Saturday; 2:10 p.m. Sunday.

TV/radio: Friday – FSD Plus, 950 AM; Saturday – FSD, 97.1 FM; Sunday – FSD, MLBN, 97.1 FM.

Probables: Friday – LHP Dallas Keuchel (1-1, 3.55) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-1, 14.73); Saturday – RHP Collin McHugh (1-1, 6.14) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (0-1, 8.71); Sunday – RHP Mike Fiers (0-1, 6.55) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 3.38).

Scouting report

Keuchel, Pirates: He’s won 18 straight regular-season starts at home, start with that. He gave up three runs and didn’t survive the fifth inning in his last start in Milwaukee, but he’s a different animal at Minute Maid Park. Ian Kinsler has had some success against him (7-for-22 with a home run). Miguel Cabrera, not as much (1-for-9).

Pelfrey, Tigers: It’s been an awkward beginning to the season for Pelfrey. Because of a rainout and some scheduling quirks, he didn’t face big-league hitters much in the final two weeks of spring training. Then his first start against the Yankees was pushed back a day and onto the coldest day ever for a game at Comerica.