Verlander grinds for first victory since May
Righty induces just one swing-and-miss, overcomes early homers
DETROIT -- For an inning, that aura of invincibility Justin Verlander has carried against the A's for the last few years looked like it was gone.
Verlander's fourth pitch of the day was a 92-mph fastball that Coco Crisp drilled over the tunnel beyond the right-field fence. His fourth batter of the day, Brandon Moss, made him pay for missing the plate on a 2-2 curveball by jumping a full-count changeup for another solo shot.
The scattered groans in the crowd reflected what many of the 35,445 fans at Comerica Park were thinking: Verlander was in for another bad day. The next five innings made it a good one.
It wasn't the dominance many are accustomed to seeing from Verlander against the A's, especially from the last two postseasons. He had to strand the bases loaded twice to get through six innings of two-run ball, but he survived for his first win since May 30 and his first home win since April 22.
The way he did that might say a lot about the kind of pitcher he's going to have to be at times to get through this season.
"Today was a grind," Verlander said. "It's one of the things that I have to do. I have to put in the work to get myself where I want to, but it's kind of a fine line."
Verlander topped out at just under 98 mph with his fastball, but only once -- in his sixth and final inning as the A's mounted one last threat, and he followed it up with a 97-mph heater.
"He certainly has a knack for being able to ratchet up his velocity when he feels the game is on the line," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Otherwise, Verlander's fastball spent most of the afternoon under 95, including some fastballs that he dialed down to spot down and away. They weren't two-seamers, he insisted; he's not going the Roy Halladay route yet. More like batting-practice fastballs.
"It's just effort level," Verlander said. "I don't really view it as a two-seamer. It's just that sometimes it's nice and easy, down and away."
Verlander's last three starts
Verlander had only one swing-and-miss all day -- an 0-2 changeup to ninth-hitting infielder and longtime foe Nick Punto in the second inning -- his lowest total since 2008. The normally aggressive A's took 22 strikes, including a trio of strikeouts, among them the curveball Verlander dropped on likely All-Star Derek Norris following Moss' home run.
He gave up hits to half of the first 14 batters he faced, then retired seven in a row with only one strikeout in the stretch -- a slider that Punto took for strike three.
"I really felt like my changeup wasn't good all day today," Verlander said, "but I was able to use the slider to lefties very well today. Having realized I didn't have a good feel for my changeup at all and getting hurt on it today, that's one of the adjustments I made."
It might well be a sign of the new Verlander, but it's not the norm for him yet. It's the form he needed at times in June while he was giving up seven runs in back-to-back outings. If he's going to get through the mechanical overhaul he's making, he's going to need these outings.
"It's not going to be perfect," Verlander said. "When you're making adjustments like that, things tend to creep toward where you want them. It's not going to be an immediate jump. I feel like it's getting better and better. It's becoming less and less of an effort to be where I want."