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Despite denials, Verlander puts change-up on shelf

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander won’t admit it, but he’s transforming himself into a three-pitch pitcher.

The change-up, once a major weapon for him, has all but been shelved. He didn’t throw a single one Thursday in the Tigers’ 2-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners.

“No,” he said when asked if he’d ditched the pitch. “I didn’t throw it today. I didn’t find the opportunity to throw it. I wanted to throw it. I thought about throwing it. I just didn’t.”

He has thrown 525 pitches this season and just 17 change-ups. The change-up became his fourth weapon of choice in the middle of last season, about the time he, with the help of pitching coach Rich Dubee, developed a tighter, more cutter-like slider.

Not the play

There was a runner at first and two outs in the sixth inning. The Tigers had just tied the score and chased Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma from the game. Left-hander Mark Rzepczynski was summoned to face left-hander Alex Avila.

Hot-hitting right-handed hitter John Hicks was available to pinch hit, but manager Brad Ausmus chose to stick with Avila.

“There were two outs and a runner on first,” he said. “Maybe it crosses your mind if he’s in scoring position and there’s no outs or something. That early in the game, with two outs and a guy on first, you’re basically asking the (pinch-hitter) to step in the box and hit at least a double, off the bench, cold.”

J.D. swinging

Right-fielder J.D. Martinez (foot) took live batting practice on Wednesday. He could start playing in extended spring training games as early as Thursday.

“Basically, he is going to progress as tolerated now,” Ausmus said. “If he comes in today and feels great, we could get him into an extended spring training game. But if he comes in and is a little sore, then he would just take BP again.

“It’s really on his shoulders now.”

Ausmus said Martinez could get as many as nine at-bats in an extended spring game. He isn’t ready to play extended time in the outfield yet, though. Once he starts playing in games, Ausmus expects him to DH for a couple games, then play the outfield for a couple.

Ausmus also said it was likely that Martinez would ultimately need to do a rehab assignment at a higher level, possibly Triple-A, before rejoining the Tigers.

Around the horn

Shortstop Jose Iglesias (concussion) returned to the lineup Thursday. To make room for him on the 25-man roster, left-handed reliever Kyle Ryan was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. Ryan needs to pitch. Since April 14, he’s appeared in four games and pitched a total of two innings. He has walked seven in 5 2/3 innings this season.

… Left-hander Justin Wilson pitched an impressive eighth inning on Thursday. With his fastball ringing at 97-98 mph, he struck out Jean Segura, Taylor Motter and Robinson Cano. In 9 2/3 innings, he hasn’t allowed a run or a hit, with 15 strikeouts.

… The start of the game was delayed 45 minutes because of rain. @cmccosky