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TEX@DET: Verlander fans eight over six strong innings

DETROIT -- The Rangers might be the most confident bunch of hitters in baseball right now. Justin Verlander is pretty confident, too. He's also pretty crafty.

Five days after Verlander used a 100-mph fastball for his 131st pitch to complete a win, he dropped changeups, sliders and an occasional curveball on the Rangers on Saturday night. That's what he used to tame one of baseball's most dangerous offenses for six innings, allowing just an unearned run.

He wasn't taking it easy on his arm -- he was trying to make it tough on the Rangers. The resulting 3-2 victory and day-night doubleheader split backed him up.

"These guys are susceptible to fastballs, too," Verlander cautioned, "but just the way their confidence is, the way they're swinging lately, they're going up there and being extremely, extremely aggressive. ... It's probably the most aggressive I've ever seen a team."

The more Verlander talked about the Rangers' aggressiveness, the more he seemed to get pumped up. It was his answer to a team that beat him once in the American League Championship Series last fall and nearly did it a second time later in the series.

This game didn't have nearly as much on the line, but it still meant plenty to Verlander.

"You know, let their aggressiveness play into my hands," he said. "If they want to swing at the first pitch every time, go ahead. Here's a slider. Here's a changeup. Swing at it."

If he thought 100-mph fastballs would mess with them, he would have thrown them, but he didn't throw a pitch over 96 mph, according to MLB.com's Gameday. He knew that wasn't his best plan.

Verlander will swallow any pride over a radar-gun reading to take the confidence out of a hitter. Nobody on the Tigers, and maybe nobody in the league, wants to humble a hitter as much as he does.

"I'm not mad at them by any means," he said, "but having the chance to watch them for a couple of games, it's not that hard to see. It's pretty blatant how aggressive they are as a team right now, and they're not always like that. But they're feeling good about themselves right now, and they want to get up there and ... kill the ball."

Verlander struck out eight, nothing special for him. The fact that he used offspeed pitches for all of the K's, though, was a rarity. At least half came on changeups, including the first three before he fanned five of the final seven Rangers he faced.

With two runners on and two out in the second inning, he threw three straight changeups to Mitch Moreland, who took the first before swinging and missing at the next two. When Verlander fell behind Moreland in the fourth inning after giving up a run, he fired seven straight fastballs before setting him up for another changeup and another swing and miss.

"His changeup was phenomenal today," catcher Alex Avila said. "That's why we kept going to it, and we kept getting the swings and misses we needed with it. Basically, he was using his fastball to set up those other pitches, and he was pinpointing everything today."

Verlander's mix of pitches kept hitters off their timing. None of the four hits he allowed went for extra bases, and three were ground balls.

"He's good. Man, he's good," said Michael Young, who watched a curveball drop on the corner for a called third strike to lead off the sixth.

Rangers hitters made Verlander work for his six innings. When he struck out Josh Hamilton to end the fifth on his 101st pitch, manager Jim Leyland told him he had 20 pitches more. He used 14 in the sixth, including the third strike on Young and a slider that sent down noted Tiger killer Nelson Cruz swinging as his bat went flying out of his hands.

Rangers hitters weren't the only tough at-bats. It took five straight Tigers baserunners with two outs in the fourth off closer-turned-starter Neftali Feliz to give Verlander the lead. Prince Fielder and Delmon Young both battled out of 0-2 holes for a walk and an RBI single, respectively, before Avila extended the inning for Ramon Santiago, who was 2-for-18 on the season at that point.

"I said to myself, 'Just follow with two strikes and hit the ball to the middle. Don't try to do too much and just get a base hit,'" Santiago said. "He threw me a changeup and it was a good one, but I stayed on it and through it and hit it [over] the shortstop."

One more offspeed pitch ended the game. Closer Jose Valverde threw just three splitters out of his 30 ninth-inning pitches. All three went to Hamilton, the last two for swings and misses to strand the tying run on second.

"He's had trouble with his splitter so far this year," Avila said, "but I think he found it, because those were pretty nasty."

So was the stuff from Verlander before it.

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