Detroit – Justin Verlander said facing his former team for the first time was different. He felt a little more electricity than he would for a mid-year, regular-season start.
But that was in July, and he was making that start against the Tigers in Houston.
“It will be a completely different animal the first time I go back to Comerica,” he said then.
Verlander will be on the mound at Comerica Park Monday for the first time since Aug. 20, 2017. That day, his final home start for the Tigers before being traded to Houston 11 days later, ended up being a precursor for Verlander’s postseason run with the Astros.
He went eight innings that day, allowing two hits and a run with nine strikeouts against the Dodgers – the team he would beat in Game 2 of the World Series.
“I am sure the fans here will give him a warm welcome,” said Tigers catcher James McCann. “You could tell just from the playoffs last year. The fans in Detroit, with us out of it, Houston became their team just because of Verlander.
“For him, it’s going to be an awesome feeling to be able to come back and pitch where he grew up and became the MVP and Cy Young Award winner that he is.”
Not that he needs extra juice – this being September and the Astros are making another playoff charge – but Verlander will be out to erase the taste from that start against the Tigers at Minute Maid Park. The Tigers hit four home runs off him that day.
“I am sure he had this series marked on his calendar for a while,” McCann said. “Regardless of what we did to him last time. You know he’s going to want to come out and pitch well, coming back to Comerica.”
Verlander seems to be getting himself back into a groove after a rough month of August, rough by his standards. He posted a 5.29 ERA in six August starts. The home run ball has nipped him all season. He’s allowed 27, three off his career high of 30 back with the Tigers in 2016.
Still, in those six starts, he struck out 50 in 32.1 innings, so it wasn’t all bad. And in his last start, he limited the Twins to a run over seven innings.
Verlander is 19-9 with a 2.47 ERA since leaving the Tigers.
“I don’t think anybody is surprised about that,” said Victor Martinez. “He’s been a really good pitcher for a long time. And when you play for a winning team like that, it brings that extra out of you.”
Martinez, who has 47 plate appearances against Verlander when both were much younger, didn’t play in the game in Houston. But he’s posted a .283 average, a .609 slugging percentage and a .907 OPS against him.
“He should get a really nice ovation here,” Martinez said. “For all the things he has done for this organization, I don’t expect anything less than that.”