J.V. in vintage form in last start before Deadline
Tigers righty tips cap to crowd after tossing six scoreless innings vs. Astros
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander received a standing ovation on his way off the field at Comerica Park twice this week. He didn't tip his cap Monday and hoped to have one more chance to do so. On Sunday, he did.
"I was a little remiss I didn't do it last time just in case, because you never know," Verlander said after the Tigers' 13-1 win over the Astros earned him his first win since June 27. "This time, I wanted to make sure I acknowledged them, even though it was only six innings. Like I said, you never know. I appreciate these fans. They've always had my back."
Enough speculation has swirled around his future and enough scouts have followed his outings leading up to Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline that he has to think about it. Though just a few scouts watched Sunday, most teams have seen enough of Verlander to know what he can offer.
He anticipates business as usual on Monday, and he'll probably be right. The combination of his no-trade clause and the needed approval from the Commissioner's office for any trade that includes a large amount of cash changing sides -- as a Verlander deal most likely would to cover part of his contract -- means the Tigers probably would've needed an agreement in principle with a club Sunday to clear those hurdles ahead of Monday's 4 p.m. ET Deadline.
Verlander could still be traded in August if he clears waivers. Any team that claims him would risk taking on the remainder of his contract, but the Tigers would also get nothing in return for him if they let him go that way. This is the crux of the conflict that has bogged down Verlander's trade status since last winter.
"I don't think he's done being a Tiger quite frankly," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It's very complex to make a trade, and it's even more complex when the player has a no-trade clause. I'm not basing this on anything other than gut instinct, but I think he'll be back. I think Tigers fans will get another chance to see him pitch."
This outing had a little bit of classic Verlander, and a little of the newer version. He averaged 96 mph with his fastball, according to Statcast™, and topped out at 98 mph. But he also used up 90 pitches over his first four innings, the result of nine baserunners and 23 foul balls in that span.
"Really a grind through four," Verlander said. "I kind of felt like a boxer with my hands up the whole time."
Then Verlander delivered the kind of shutdown innings that have made him so good with leads -- nine pitches in a clean fifth inning, 11 in the sixth. He pitched in reverse and started off sluggers like Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis and Brian McCann with sliders and curveballs before going to his fastball.
"He's a competitor," Justin Upton said. "He prepares for every start. He goes out there and grinds. Today was a sign of that. It's fun to play behind him when he's pitching that way."
Verlander avenged a May outing in Houston, where the Astros hit three homers off him. He also helped clinch a series over the American League's juggernaut, the Astros' first back-to-back losses since mid-June and first series loss on the road since April.
"While you're wearing the Old English 'D,' that's what you focus on," Verlander said. "Unless something changes, that's what your sole focus is -- to go out and help your team win. We've been together for a long time now. Unless that changes, then you go do your business. We're all professionals here."
He celebrated with teammates, answered questions in front of his locker, then boarded the Tigers' flight to New York, starting a nine-game, three-city trip for the Tigers. If Verlander doesn't make it back, he left Detroit with something to remember.
"He's a Detroit icon," catcher James McCann said. "I hope he's here for the rest of his career, and I hope to get to catch him. If that's not the case, he'll remain a Detroit icon forever, and I'll be glad that his last one here went the way that it did."