Tigers' Verlander in search of road revival vs. Royals

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander

Kansas City, Mo. – There never has been a significant difference between home and road efficiency for Justin Verlander:

Home: 93-48, 3.20 ERA, 1.1 WHIP, .227 opponents’ average.

Road: 84-61, 3.81 ERA, 1.2 WHIP, .244 opponents’ average.

This year, it’s been a different story:

Home: 2-0, 1.61 ERA, 0.8 WHIP, .162 opponents’ average.

Road: 2-3, 7.64 ERA, 1.8 WHIP, .299 opponents’ average.

“It’s not a problem,” Verlander said.

No, given that we’re talking about six starts out of 184 road starts over 13 seasons, it’s more like an oddity, an anomaly. Still, he will make his seventh road start at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday still looking for a correction back to the norm.

“Can you even call it an anomaly in that few starts?” he said. “I wouldn’t say so. Not enough data. If it was like that over a couple of years, then maybe. But we’re talking about six starts and two really bad ones.”

Granted a nine-run outing in Cleveland and a six-run outing in Houston in his last start skew an already small sample size.

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But the numbers can’t be completely ignored.

Besides hitting .299 against him on the road, opponents have a .533 slugging percentage and .925 OPS against him on the road. Eight of the nine home runs off him have been on the road, including three in the fourth inning by the Astros in his last start.

“I’ll be honest with you, he looks fine to me,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Other than the fact that he’s given up more runs.

His stuff looks fine. Walks were an issue a few starts ago, but I couldn’t really put my finger on anything specific.

“There has not been any drop-off in stuff.”

In terms of velocity, that is certainly true. His average fastball is clocking at 95.5 mph and he’s hitting 97 and 98 when he needs it, even deep in the game. According to data compiled by Brooks Baseball, opponents are hitting .207 against his fastball, .233 against his slider and .270 against his curve.

The latter two numbers are higher than normal.

He has all but abandoned his change-up, which hitters have feasted on (.391). He’s only throwing it about 5 percent of the time.

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“Everything feels good,” Verlander said. “Like I said the last couple of starts, it’s been getting better, so, just stay the course. I wasn’t discouraged (by the last start). I was discouraged that we lost. But it wasn’t like one of those where I need to go back and re-figure it out.”

It was not, he said, a step backward.

He was coy about what he’s been working on between starts, saying only that he wasn’t concentrating on anything specific.

“Just the usual work,” he said. “I do feel like I am making steady progress. A lot of things go on behind the scenes that nobody talks about. So, I am not talking about it.”

If he is going to start the process of rebuilding his road record, Kauffman Stadium would figure to be the spot for it. In 22 starts here, he’s 13-5 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.2 WHIP, 127 strikeouts and just six home runs allowed.

“You never know what’s going to happen when you take the mound,” he said. “But I enjoy pitching here. I like the way the mound is set up. I mean, some ballparks just look better to you than others.

“But these guys (the Royals) have a good lineup and a good team. You never take anything for granted. I thought there were some good signs in my last start other than the one bad inning. I just want to build on that and keep it going.”

Twitter @cmccosky