Verlander says he's ahead of where he was last season

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander said he accomplished what he wanted to this spring.

Lakeland, Fla. — The ending wasn’t as he’d have scripted it, but his body of work this spring — right on point.

“I think I accomplished what I wanted to,” Tigers ace Justin Verlander said after his three-inning, 63-pitch exhibition finale Wednesday. “I am ahead of where I was this time last year. But spring training doesn’t dictate anything heading into the season.

“I’m optimistic, but you can’t just say, ‘I’m where I need to be.’ It’s never really the case. You have to turn the page on spring and get ready to go.”

Verlander, who will start his 10th season-opener on Monday in Chicago, gave up five hits and four runs in an 8-2 spring loss to the Phillies. The big blow was a three-run home run on a hanging breaking ball to Daniel Nava.

BOX SCORE: Phillies 8, Tigers 2

“Overall, I felt pretty good,” he said. “In previous starts I said the results were better than how I felt. Today it was the opposite. I felt better than the results. It was as close as I’ve felt (to being fully ready for the regular season).

“It’s time to go.”

His fastball was humming — 95-97 mph. And he was getting weak contact and swings and misses on his slider, which he was pleased about.

“I just wanted to be further along than I was at this point last year and I think the ball is coming out of my hand a lot better,” Verlander said. “I wanted to pick up close to where I was at the end of last year.

“My fastball and curveball have been good. The change-up and slider took some time. The last four or five starts I focused on the slider a lot. It was pretty good today. I’m happy.”

Tigers' Verlander focuses on elusive ring, not legacy

A mixed bag

Tigers right-hander Mike Pelfrey, barely clinging to a roster spot, had some bright moments in his 2 1/3 innings Wednesday. But it ended badly.

After he struck out four straight batters, all three in the fifth, he was tagged for back-to-back home runs by Rhys Hoskins and Brock Stassi in the sixth.

“He was cruising for a while,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I guess he maybe hit a wall there. It had been a while since his pitch count got that high.”

Ausmus said Pelfrey was no longer a candidate to start and the long reliever role in the bullpen was given to Anibal Sanchez. With two cuts left, it’s hard to see where Pelfrey fits on this roster.

Bounce back

As you would expect, Sanchez was angry on Tuesday when he learned he’d be starting the season in the bullpen. Matthew Boyd won the No. 5 starter spot.

Wednesday, though, was a new day.

“He handled it professionally,” Ausmus said. “He was in great spirits today. I talked to him today. He talked to (pitching coach Rich) Dubee and told him he wanted to keep working on his arm slot that he’s trying to perfect and he was in great spirits.

“That was a good sign. We told him that we were going to need 10 or 11 starters this year most likely. There’s a pretty good chance he’s going to start at some point, and when he does, I hope he takes advantage of it.”

Both Boyd and Sanchez will pitch Thursday against the Orioles. Boyd will start and throw 50 pitches. Sanchez will pitch second and go longer.

Around the horn

Ausmus said the club intends to carry 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster and there was no plan to use a four-man rotation early in the year.

…Justin Verlander, who will start opening day in Chicago on Monday, will make his second start at Comerica Park on Sunday against the Red Sox.

Twitter: @cmccosky