Detroit — Tough crowd.
Justin Verlander, while helping the Tigers sweep a three-game series from the Minnesota Twins, 6-3 Wednesday, notched his 2,000th career strikeout.
“I caught Roger Clemens, and he struck out, what, 4,000?” manager Brad Ausmus said with a smile. “Ver’s got to catch up to the Rocket to really impress me.”
Verlander struck out Eddie Rosario to the end fourth inning, and the matinee crowd of 29,035 at Comerica Park gave him the first of two standing ovations on the day. Between innings, the Tigers played a video montage of Verlander’s strikeouts over the years.
“That video they made was cool,” said Verlander, who was charged with three runs and six hits (five of them singles) in 7.1 innings. “I saw my first strikeout against Travis Hafner, I looked pretty doggone young and fresh-faced. There’ve been a lot of great moments along the way, a lot of great moments in this stadium in front of these people. A lot of great seasons.
“That kind of brought all that back to the forefront.”
He and Mickey Lolich are the only Tigers to reach 2,000 strikeouts. Verlander is the 76th player in Major League history to do it.
“It’s an outstanding accomplishment,” Ausmus said. “Ver has been one of the elite pitchers in baseball since he arrived on the scene in 2006. And since the end of last July when a lot of people doubted him, he’s shown he still has a lot left in the tank.
“It might not be 97-100 mph anymore, but he’s got a lot of experience and he can still crank it up to 96-97 when he needs to. And he's got a lot of moxie.”
His stat line Wednesday didn’t do him justice. For seven innings, he was cruising. He was getting swings and misses on his fastball, which ranged in speed from 91-95 mph. He kept Twins hitters off balance by mixing in curve balls, sliders and a heavy-sinking change-up.
He tied his season-high with 10 strikeouts.
“It’s nice to get swings and misses on the fastball,” Verlander said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly why. Most of my career, when I’m healthy, I do get swing and misses on it. Maybe it’s that my body is working the way it should and because of that my mechanics are more sound and I’m hiding the ball better.
“Who knows? I just know it’s been a weapon.”
After giving up seven runs in five innings to the Indians on May 3, Verlander took to Twitter to announce that he was close to being dominant again. In his last three starts, he’s allowed four runs and struck out 27.
“I don’t do the social media thing so I didn’t know he said that,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “I’m glad I didn’t or I probably would have got on him about it. But, hey, when you are good and you are confident, you’ve got to back it up and he was able to do that.”
Saltalamacchia has seen first-hand Verlander’s transformation from a power-armed thrower to the savvy pitcher he is now. Saltalamacchia faced Verlander 18 times in his career and struck out 11 times.
“Yeah, I definitely helped him with 2,000 strikeouts,” he said. “I helped on both sides. So maybe a Casio watch or something would be nice. It’s not easy to do. Guys get old in this game and they play a long time. Hitters start to get used to you. They start to see what you do.
“You’ve got to make adjustments with that. This shows he was able to make those adjustments and be pretty darn good at it.”
The Twins' Joe Mauer, who struck out twice and has fanned 13 times against Verlander in 71 at-bats, has also been impressed by Verlander’s transformation.
“I've faced him pretty much my whole career and he's really evolved into a pitcher,” Mauer said. “When he first started to come up, he was more of a thrower, he could get away with a lot of things. But he was pretty tough today.”
Verlander has lost games 2-1 and 1-0 this season, but run support was not an issue in this one.
Ian Kinsler had three hits, including his 10th home run of the season, and knocked in two runs. He has homered in four straight games. He didn’t hit his 10th home run last year until September and finished with 11.
J.D. Martinez singled in a run and tripled. Had he hit a home run, he and Kinsler would have become the first teammates to each hit a homer in four straight games.
Nick Castellanos and Justin Upton each had two hits.
And after losing 11 of 12, the Tigers have won four in a row.
“That’s why we kept emphasizing, we have the right personnel to work through this and come out the other side better for it,” Verlander said. “Everybody comes in here every day knowing what they need to do. Knowing how to prepare to win a ballgame and knowing how to turn the page.
“That’s the biggest thing in this game, knowing how to forget what’s in the rearview mirror when it hasn’t been going well and then turning the page.”