Cleveland — There was a large throng of big-league scouts in attendance Saturday and the guy many came to see, right-hander Justin Verlander, gave them plenty to chew on.
“It reminded me of college,” he said.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it was just another loss — 4-0 in front of a sold-out crowd at Progressive Field. They drop to 10 games under .500 (38-48) and nine games behind the Indians in the American League Central.
With one game left before the All-Star break, any lingering pretense about clawing back into contention is getting thinner by the day.
“I’m a firm believer we can turn it around; whether it’s too late or not, I don’t know,” Verlander said. “I do think we can turn it around, but it’s not looking great.”
It truly is not, especially with general manager Al Avila already putting teams around the league on notice that he’s willing to listen to any and all potential deals.
“Al’s put it out there that some of the guys are on the block,” Verlander said. “We probably have to peel off 10 or 12 straight to turn that tide.”
Verlander, already rumored to have drawn interest from the Cubs and Dodgers, put himself closer to the top of team’s trade deadline shopping list with his bounce-back performance Saturday.
Coming off a horrific seven-run outing against the Indians six days ago, Verlander showed he’s still more than capable of providing a sizeable boost to a contending team’s rotation. He went 6⅔ strong innings, giving up just one run and six hits with six strikeouts.
“Everything felt better,” Verlander said. “I made some major adjustments on quite a few things in my last bullpen and I really feel like it carried over into the game. Overall, it felt really good to see the results in the game that allowed me to pitch the way I can.”
His fastball was more lively than it’s been in recent starts. Not just in terms of velocity (96-98 mph) but with late movement, as well. He got 12 called strikes with it. He also dusted off his change-up, throwing eight of them, two to get left-handed hitter Lonnie Chisenhall out (ground out and swing-and-miss strikeout).
“These guys (Indians) battle,” Verlander said. “The last couple of years, I don’t know if there’s ever been a team that’s battled me as hard as they have, and it’s gone both ways. Either I have a decent game or they get the best of me.
“Unfortunately, one run is all it took today.”
The one blemish on his line beat him.
After he struck out Yan Gomes and Erik Gonzalez to start the fifth inning, he gave up a single to Francisco Lindor on a 2-0 fastball. Then he engaged in a nine-pitch battle with Michael Brantley.
Brantley fell behind 1-2, then fouled off three pitches and worked the count full. Verlander tried to beat him with a curveball and Brantley spanked it into the gap in right-center field, scoring Lindor from first.
“I thought that was a decent curve ball in a decent spot,” Verlander said. “But I ran away from it a little. It gave him just enough time to say, ‘Oh, it’s curveball.’ Because it came out (of his hand) just a hair early, as opposed to staying on it.”
He was lifted in the seventh inning with runners at first and second and two out. He was at 115 pitches. Shane Greene cleaned up the mess, getting Edwin Encarnacion to ground out.
“I really wanted Encarnacion,” Verlander said. “But that is out of my control.”
So is the lack of run support. For the fifth time in 18 of his starts, the Tigers were limited to two runs or less.
“There have been times when I’ve given up five or six runs and gotten the win,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to dwell on the good ones when you get run support, but you can’t do that. You just keep plugging along and go about your business.
“This felt like a huge step in the right direction for me, mechanics-wise, stuff-wise, everything.”
The offense was suppressed again by Indians’ right-hander Mike Clevinger. They managed two hits and a run over six innings against him in Detroit last Sunday. And on Saturday, he shut them out on three hits in six innings.
“We’ve got to find a way to scrape out a couple of runs,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Somehow we’ve got to find a way. We just didn’t do a lot offensively.”
The Tigers only got one runner as far as second base all night, J.D. Martinez, who led off the second inning with a double. He went no further.
Things didn’t get any easier or better when the Indians went to the bullpen. Andrew Miller got six straight outs, striking out two and getting four ground-ball outs. And Cody Allen pitched a scoreless ninth, allowing only a two-out single to Miguel Cabrera.
It was the seventh time the club has been shutout this season.
“Just not getting hits, not getting the big hit,” Ausmus said. “It’s not every night, but it’s happened more frequently than we would’ve thought.”
The Indians put it out of reach scoring three runs in the eighth off reliever Bruce Rondon, highlighted by an RBI double by Carlos Santana and an RBI triple by Bradley Zimmer.
“Personal-wise, a win,” Verlander said. “Team-wise, not a win. And this is a team sport, not a personal sport. So you walk away with a bitter taste in your mouth.”