Verlander's playoff run fuels confidence for Game 3
Tigers ace unscored upon in two October starts after going 13-12 in regular season
DETROIT -- In Justin Verlander, the Tigers trust.
The Tigers expect no carryover from Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park. But, as the focus switches to Game 3 on Tuesday (4 p.m. ET on FOX), the Tigers openly take comfort in knowing that Verlander is getting the start.
"It's great to have Verlander on the mound because you know he's going to give us every chance to win," outfielder Torii Hunter said about a pitcher who has yet to allow a run in two postseason starts.
"You see what he's done in the last few games and I think he's ready for the challenge," closer Joaquin Benoit said.
"He has been stepping up and coming through for us," outfielder Austin Jackson said. "We have confidence in him and expect him to keep doing it."
Verlander, who will be going up against Red Sox right-hander John Lackey, said he appreciates the confidence of his teammates but that it should be spread throughout a Tigers playoff rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister.
Tale of the Tape: Game 3
|2013 regular season|
|Overall: 34 GS, 13-12, 3.46 ERA, 75 BB, 217 SO||Overall: 29 GS, 10-13, 3.52 ERA, 40 BB, 161 SO|
|Key stat: Verlander hasn't allowed a run in his last 28 innings pitched, dating back to Sept. 18.||Key stat: In his lone postseason start in the ALDS against the Rays, Lackey gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings.|
|At Comerica Park|
|2013: 17 GS, 6-7, 3.73 ERA
Career: 130 GS, 72-32, 3.09 ERA
|2013: 1 GS, 0-0, 2.57 ERA
Career: 6 GS, 4-1, 3.83 ERA
|Against this opponent|
|2013: 1 GS, 0-0, 7.20 ERA
Career: 11 GS, 3-4, 3.63 ERA
|2013: 2 GS, 0-1, 3.14 ERA
Career: 12 GS, 6-3, 3.86 ERA
|Loves to face: Dustin Pedroia, 1-for-18, 3 K
Hates to face:: David Ortiz, 10-for-27, 4 2B, 2 HR
|Loves to face: Alex Avila, 0-for-7, 3 K
Hates to face:: Victor Martinez, 11-for-29, 1 2B, 4 BB
|Why he'll win: Verlander was dominant in the ALDS against the A's, striking out 21 in 15 scoreless innings over two starts.||Why he'll win: Lackey has good history pitching in Detroit and only allowed two runs in seven innings at Comerica on June 20.|
|Pitcher beware: Verlander was worse at home this year, posting a 6-7 record with a 3.73 ERA.||Pitcher beware: Lackey struggled on the road, going 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP this season.|
|Bottom line: Verlander has been at his best over his last four starts, and will be tough to beat.||Bottom line: Lackey wasn't at his sharpest in the ALDS, and will have to improve to match Verlander.|
"You know, it feels great to hear that," Verlander said. "But I think that the great thing about this team is no matter what happens, we can say that about the starting pitcher the next day. Whatever happens tomorrow, we can say, 'It's all right, we've got Doug Fister going the next day, and then we have Anibal and then we have Max.' We've got a starting rotation that's relentless, and I said that before the series started. Every guy has their unique ability to shut down a team in their own way."
Verlander was not at Fenway Park when the Red Sox rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win Game 2 in the ninth inning. After consulting with manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski, Verlander flew back to Detroit early Sunday to get full rest for Tuesday's outing.
"After getting in from Oakland at 10 a.m. and then after seeing a 1-0 game take four hours the night before, I went and talked with Dave and Jim and got their thoughts on whether they thought I should fly out early or not and make sure I got a good night's rest," Verlander said. "They thought it was a great idea. As I saw that game unfold, I was watching it last night, I was thinking, 'This is going to go extras and turn into the L.A. game and go 13 innings, and we're going to get in at 8 a.m.' I definitely made the right decision."
The Tigers need Verlander at his best, and he has been that way lately. A difficult regular season is fading from view and Verlander is looking like one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues again after the way he dominated the Athletics in the Division Series.
Verlander, after posting a 2.27 ERA in six September starts, did not allow a run in two starts against the A's. In 15 innings, he allowed six hits, two walks and struck out 21 batters. Verlander may not end up in the top five in the AL Cy Young Award voting this season, but he has been as good as ever in the playoffs.
"You can't just say you're going to go out and be perfect, everything is going to be right where you want every time," Verlander said. "That's just the nature of this game, and specifically this game. Guys have up and down seasons. You can't just rely on athletic ability or whatever it may be. There's a lot of fine-tuned things that go into mechanics.
"You look at the back of Hall of Famers' bubble-gum cards, there are seasons that are down. It's just kind of the way this game is. It was a grind for me all year. I could probably sit here and name 50 adjustments that I tried to make that didn't quite work or did help. Who knows what helped along the way and what didn't?
"But I really felt like the last month of the season I started to kind of get it to click."
Verlander said the most important thing is not getting too bogged down in mechanics when on the mound but to trust natural ability and execution.
"With all the adjustments I've been making, when I'm out on the mound, I've still got those in my head a little bit," Verlander said. "I try to shove them in the back of [my] mind; you want to forget them and pitch. When I know things aren't right and I'm trying to get them right, [you think] 'Let's do this, let's do that.' I found the only thing is execution. I feel like my mechanics are where they need to be and I need to execute. Just forget about all that and just make my pitch."
During the regular season, Verlander was 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA and 217 strikeouts in 218 1/3 innings and opponents hitting .253 against him. Statistically, it was his worst season since 2008, when he was 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA.
Verlander said it has been a battle trying to figure things out, but Leyland said his six-time All-Star hasn't been that far off this season.
"He's been pretty dominant in the season, as well," Leyland said. "The record is not 19-7, so people think maybe he hasn't been as good. He's pitched well for a long time now, and in the postseason he seemed to step it up. Justin is a competitor, and when he gets locked in, it's going to be another good matchup.
"We've got five good starting pitchers, and when it's their day to pitch, they go out and do the best they can. I don't think they're in competition with one another, I think they're in competition with the opposing team. I've always emphasized, 'Yeah, it's nice to have a horse.' But at the same time, the most important pitcher for me is the guy that's pitching that day. Say you've got a No. 1 starter, he only pitches once every five days. If you win one and lose the other four, you don't do too good in this business."
The Tigers haven't had to worry about that from a rotation that had a 3.44 ERA in the regular season, the lowest in the league. Tigers starting pitchers are 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA through their first seven games of the playoffs. Opponents are hitting .161 off them and they had struck out 64 in 45 1/3 innings.
"Obviously, we're close," Verlander said. "I think all starting staffs are. We're all doing the same thing. It's just kind of the way it goes. We're all extremely competitive guys. You see a guy go out there and do a great job, you want to go out there and do a better job. That's how it is."
The Tigers need that to continue to get back to the World Series. Verlander's turn comes Tuesday at Comerica Park.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.