Friday, October 11, 2013
Red Sox will see real Verlander
By Buster Olney
Justin Verlander has insisted his struggles have been mechanical, not physical. Maybe he's right.
The topic was Justin Verlander, and the two veteran hitters who had faced him this year spoke of the Cy Young winner in their dugout with great respect, but also with professional honesty.
"He’s not the same guy," said one of the players.
The other nodded: "Not even close."
They talked about how Verlander’s fastball in 2013 was less than it used to be, and about how this changed everything in the challenge of hitting against him. Because he wasn’t throwing as hard and couldn’t throw the ball past them, as he had in the past, he relied much more on his off-speed stuff. "He's got to trick you now," said one of the hitters. "He never had to do that before."
The early diagnosis of Verlander from these two particular players was the same shared by a lot of evaluators: All those innings logged, all those games when he drove himself past 120 pitches, as the game’s best pitcher, had finally begun to catch up to him.
Well ... so much for that.
Verlander had said all summer that he felt that there were mechanical adjustments he needed to make, tweaks that would get his delivery back to maximum efficiency, and apparently he has made them, because at the end of what has generally been a less-than-dominant year, he has been exceptional, again.
He completely controlled Oakland in Game 5 of the American League Division Series Thursday night, throwing hard; the first of two hits he allowed occurred in the seventh inning.
Given his unusual level of confidence, my guess was that he started thinking about a possible perfect game somewhere around the fifth inning. Or earlier.
"Yeah, there were thoughts of a no-hitter," he told reporters after the game. "I shoved those to the back of my mind. I think you see guys have no-hitters late in a game and give up a hit and the wheels kind of fall off, and you get erratic and you see that all the time.
"That being the case, I would have liked to have thrown a no-hitter and it was in the back of my mind, but you can't let that happen in this scenario. The game is too big. There is so much other stuff going on that you can't let a hit late in the game change your focus. I stepped myself off the mound and told myself to refocus and execute. That was the word of the day for me in my head, 'relax' and 'execute.'"
Said Oakland manager Bob Melvin: "We weren't getting very good swings on him. I thought maybe when it started to get darker, we would get better swings, but he kept throwing fastballs. I haven't seen the video to see if he was on the corners all night. Surprising how many fastballs he threw that we swung through, because we're a very good fastball hitting team.”
Over Verlander's past four starts, he has allowed zero runs, 15 hits and six walks in 27 innings, with 43 strikeouts. In the Oakland series, the four Detroit starting pitchers -- Verlander, Max Scherzer (who worked in relief in Game 4), Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister -- threw 34 1/3 innings of the 44 innings, and struck out 41.
John Farrell's club has caused more troubles for Detroit's starters than most.
But that was against an Oakland team that is relatively young and aggressive, like Josh Donaldson, who seemed to make up his mind he was going to swing regardless of what pitch Verlander threw, or where it was thrown. The challenge changes against Boston, because the Red Sox have a habit of getting starting pitchers out of games, even the elite quartet of Detroit starters.
Verlander averaged 6 1/3 IP in his 33 starts against other teams; versus Boston, his one start lasted five innings and 112 pitches.
In a season that probably will net Scherzer a Cy Young Award, he had two starts against the Red Sox, working seven innings in each; he won one, lost the other. Fister averaged 6 1/3 innings in 32 starts, and worked 10 1/3 innings in two starts against Boston, getting beat up early in the summer and then throwing seven scoreless in early September. Sanchez didn’t face Boston this year.
The Tigers staff is reminiscent of the Atlanta Braves staff in the 1990s, with a star-studded, deep rotation and a thin bullpen. The Rays kept running left-handers out of their bullpen against Boston in the AL Division Series, a human wave of lefties. Detroit has two left-handers -- Drew Smyly, and Jose Alvarez, who has nine relief appearances in the majors.
During the course of the regular season, the Red Sox hitters saw over 1,300 more pitches than any other team, and that particular skill will never be as important as it will be in this series, against this rotation, against the revitalized Justin Verlander.
Who is the same guy.
From ESPN Stats & Information, more on Verlander:
• Verlander generated 24 missed swings, which matched his most in any start over the past five seasons. He got 18 swings and misses with his fastball, his most in any start over the past five seasons. That's tied for the most missed swings against a fastball in a postseason start in that span, matching the 18 by Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants against the Atlanta Braves in 2010.
• Verlander also said after the game "that's the first time in awhile that my changeup has been pretty good." He was right. Verlander held the A's left-handed hitters to 1-for-20 Thursday, which was aided by his throwing 12 of 17 changeups for strikes against them.
It was his best changeup strike rate against left-handed hitters in nearly two months (his last rate that was better was Aug. 11 versus the Yankees -- 81.3%).
• Verlander is now 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA and a .156 opponents' BA against Oakland in the postseason. Against all others he's 3-4 with a 5.14 ERA.
• Also, he has the most consecutive scoreless innings by a pitcher versus a single team in MLB postseason history:
2012-13 Justin Verlander: 30 IP vs. the Athletics
1905-11 Christy Mathewson: 28 vs. the Athletics
1957 Lew Burdette: 24 vs. the Yankees
1991-92 Steve Avery: 22 1/3 vs. the Pirates
1930 George Earnshaw: 22 vs. the Cardinals
2: Pitchers in MLB history with at least 10 strikeouts and no runs allowed in back-to-back postseason games -- Justin Verlander and Sandy Koufax (1965 World Series).
24: Swings and misses Justin Verlander got Thursday, matching his most in any start the past five seasons.
6: Consecutive winner-take-all playoff games the A’s have lost, dating back to 2000. It’s the longest such streak in MLB history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.