JV, Avila have strong nights as Deadline nears
Righty goes 7 strong, catcher has key hit with scouts on hand vs. KC
DETROIT -- In his 184th game at Comerica Park, Justin Verlander may have walked off the mound for the last time in a home uniform. He left Monday's game, an eventual 5-3 loss to the Royals in 12 innings, to grand appreciation, as many fans from the announced crowd of 26,415 rose to applaud their longtime ace.
For a fleeting moment, Verlander entertained the thought that it was the end of his time in Detroit.
"It's kind of in the background of my mind that you never know what could happen," he said. "It's back there, and there is a moment walking off the mound where you just take a second to appreciate it."
For now, Verlander is scheduled to pitch Sunday at home against the Astros, one day before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. At least five scouts were in attendance Monday, including a Cubs scout who tracked Verlander with a radar gun.
"I haven't felt like that since college, with a bunch of scouts back there watching," said Verlander, Detroit's 2nd-overall Draft pick in 2004 from Old Dominion University.
Verlander looked vintage in seven innings, allowing five hits and three runs with nine strikeouts. He threw 119 pitches, tying a season high, the last of which was a 98-mph fastball. If that was his final start as a Tiger, it was a good one for fans and teammates to remember.
"I'm not gonna lie, I thought about that over the course of this game, that it might be the last time," catcher Alex Avila said. "That's something you try not to think about, but you're human, so you do."
The past four starts show a version of Verlander that should entice any capable bidder. He has a 2.77 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, with 28 strikeouts in 26 innings.
MLB.com's Jon Morosi tweeted Monday about the Astros, Dodgers and Cubs showing interest in Verlander, who will make $28 million each of the next two seasons, with a $22 million vested option for 2020, which he could leverage to be picked up if he waives his no-trade clause.
The Dodgers are an interesting case now that their ace, Clayton Kershaw, will reportedly miss four to six weeks with a lower back strain. The Cubs have been rumored to be looking into Avila, too, who could provide a veteran lefty bat behind the plate to couple with right-handed Willson Contreras.
Avila helped his trade value with a two-out, two-RBI single in the sixth to tie the game. He lined a sinker from left-hander Scott Alexander to snap an 0-for-14 skid. Avila had been 2-for-15 against lefties (.133) before the hit.
Even with recent struggles, Avila is having his best season since he was an All-Star in 2011. His .280/.402/.488 slash line could be a boon to any contender.
The unique element of Avila's situation is that his father, Al, is the team's general manager. Alex Avila said they see this situation as something that isn't bizarre, but simply business. Still, as rumors swirl at an increasing pace, he's looking forward to getting past the coming week.
"I think a lot of guys are," he said. "You tend to just get a little anxious, waiting on whether it does or doesn't happen. And that's really it. But like I said before, there's nothing you can do. You wish the rumors and the speculation and just kind of the stuff that's thrown out there doesn't happen, because it does involve our lives and more people than just the player itself."
When Verlander walked off the mound, perhaps for the last time as a Tiger, he didn't pay attention to the adoring crowd. The game was tied and that -- not the trade rumors -- was his focus. But he's always had as much appreciation for the fans as they've had for him, and that wasn't lost on the 34-year-old ace as he thought about their ovation after the game.
"I know I didn't acknowledge it when I was walking off the mound," he said. "Maybe I wish I could've gone back and said thank you. But who knows, maybe there's a lot more of those to come. Maybe there's not."