Detroit — Rookie catcher John Hicks has known Justin Verlander long enough not to be surprised by anything he does on a baseball field. He has been watching Verlander dominate hitters since he was a boy back in Goochland, Va.
But, the rabbit Verlander pulled out of his hat Sunday even had Hicks shaking his head.
“Watching him is awesome, being behind the plate is unbelievable,” Hicks said, after catching Verlander’s eight-inning, two-hit win over the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers. “You put down a finger and he might say yes or he might say no. But it doesn’t matter what he throws because it’s sharp and commanded.
“He was throwing fastballs today that looked like they didn’t even see.”
Verlander’s fastball was overpowering on Sunday, for sure. But Hicks has seen that plenty. What he hadn’t seen before was Verlander throwing two different sliders. He broke out a cut-slider, which is thrown harder, at 91-92 mph, to go along with his normal slider that he throws at 87-88 mph.
“It was just before the game,” Hicks said. “He was like, ‘Hey, I got another one I can throw.’ So, I said, ‘Yeah, let’s work it in there.’ It’s pretty impressive that he can do that. It’s something he hadn’t necessarily been throwing all the time, and he just says before the game, ‘Yeah, I’ll throw that today, too.’”
The first one he threw was to Justin Turner in the first inning. He ended up throwing 30 sliders, unofficially, 10 were the cut-slider.
“I told him that after the first time he threw it, they were looking into the dugout like, ‘What was that?’” Hicks said. “It was huge. Both of the sliders were very good. It gave him something else he could mix in there.
“It’s really hard on a hitter. But it’s real fun for a catcher.”
Verlander has thrown the cut-slider before. It was his slider of choice in the second half of last year. But he’d been having more success this year after he went back to his old slider grip and took velocity off it.
He acknowledged this was the first game he used both, but he would not say what his rationale was.
“I can’t tell you all my secrets,” he said, smiling.
Run, Ian, run
Ian Kinsler probably will hear JaCoby Jones’ footsteps in his sleep tonight.
The Tigers added two significant insurance runs in the eighth inning on a double by Miguel Cabrera. Kinsler singled and stole second base against Dodgers lefty Tony Cingrani. Jones, pinch-hitting for Alex Presley, walked.
With one out, Cabrera hit a 400-foot laser into the gap in right-center. There was miscommunication between Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Enrique Hernandez and the ball dropped between them.
Jones was running right on Kinsler’s back from second base to home.
“I was standing on second,” Jones said. “When I saw them drop the ball, I just said, I’m going to run. I saw them bobble it again and I already had momentum, so I was just going to keep running.”
Third base coach Dave Clark was waiving Kinsler home, but the two runners were so close, it might as well have been for both.
“I don’t know if Clarkie was sending me or Kinsler,” Jones said. “I was just going to run.”
Both runners scored just ahead of the throw — Kinsler standing up and Jones with a head-first slide. Pretty exhilarating play from a team not known for speed on the bases.
“It's a little bit easier read for Jones at first base because he needs to get close to second,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Then if he catches it, you go back. Kins did the right thing, as well. If he catches it, he tags and goes to third. If not, he hopefully he can score.”
Justin Upton last season hit his 26th home run on Sept. 22. No. 26 came more than a month earlier this year. His 400-foot shot off the foul pole in left in the sixth inning gave the Tigers a 4-1 lead.
It was his fifth homer in the last 10 games.
“He's just a good player and he's been a good player for 10 years now,” Ausmus said. “And this season he's just been as consistent as can be. I can't imagine a player in baseball being as consistent from Day One to today.
“Everyday you feel like he's going to do something.”
Since the All-Star break, Upton is hitting .323 with a .407 on-base percentage, slugging .654 with a 1.061 OPS.
Around the horn
Cabrera singled and doubled in his last two at-bats and he was 5-for-13 in the series. After his double in the eighth, he aggressively advanced on a wild pitch that didn’t bounce far past catcher Austin Barnes. “Miggy still plays the game the way you're supposed to,” Ausmus said. “He wants to get to third. He sees the ball get away from the catcher and thinks he has the opportunity to move up 90 feet and he did.”
… Hicks, Dixon Machado and Andrew Romine, the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters in the lineup were a combined 4-for-9 with three doubles and two RBIs. “The season hasn’t gone great for us, but you need production from other places than just the guys you expect it from,” Ausmus said. “That’s a necessity and today those guys did a nice job.”