Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus isn’t about to call Justin Verlander’s disastrous stretch the beginning of the end of his career.
There’s no mistaking, though, that the former AL Cy Young Award winner is looking completely overwhelmed.
Verlander tries to put another terrible performance behind him as the visiting Tigers go for their first three-game win streak in a month Saturday night against the Cleveland Indians.
Detroit (38-32) won Friday’s series opener 6-4 to move a half-game ahead of Kansas City for the AL Central lead. The Tigers beat the Royals on Thursday on the heels of a 5-12 stretch, and haven’t won three in a row since reeling off six straight May 12-18.
Verlander (6-7, 4.98 ERA) has had a hand in Detroit’s struggles, going 2-5 with a 7.83 ERA in his last seven starts. June has been a complete nightmare, as he has a 9.16 ERA in losing all three outings.
"Frustration is definitely the word I’m using right now," he said after giving up seven runs for a second straight game and a season-worst 12 hits in six innings of Monday’s 11-8 loss to Kansas City.
His strikeouts are down (6.36 per nine innings after a 9.17 mark from 2009-13), his walks are up (3.78 per nine innings compared to 2.50 from 2009-13), and he’s no longer fooling hitters as games progress. Verlander is limiting opponents to a .233 average their first time up, but that number jumps to .310 the second and third times through the order. Those numbers were at .215 and .230, respectively, over the previous five seasons.
The Indians (37-37) have already contributed to Verlander’s woes, tagging the right-hander for five runs and 11 hits over six innings for a 6-2 win May 20.
"You can’t change the bad stretch that he’s going through. He’s just going to have to keep looking forward and keep working," Ausmus said. "He’s going to be here all year, he’s one of our pitchers. … He certainly has the repertoire to pitch well into his 30s."
Ausmus said Torii Hunter may be back Saturday after a hamstring strain sidelined him the last four games. His return, however, is not expected to displace J.D. Martinez from the lineup.
Martinez went 3 for 4 with a three-run homer Friday, and he’s 10 for 18 with four home runs and nine RBIs as Hunter’s replacement. He is batting .519 with two home runs and five doubles in his last seven games against right-handers, and gets another righty Saturday in Trevor Bauer.
"You see occasionally players get on a hot streak like this and I hope he’s hot (Saturday)," Ausmus said.
Victor Martinez also homered Friday and is batting .364 with three home runs in six games against his former team this season.
The Indians trailed 5-0 in the opener before a three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera and a solo shot by Carlos Santana in the eighth inning got Cleveland within a run.
"Our guys never quit, but unfortunately, we couldn’t make it all the way back and get this one," Friday’s starting pitcher Corey Kluber said.
Cabrera is batting .346 against Detroit this year, including 3 for 6 against Verlander.
Bauer (2-3, 4.20) makes his second start opposite Verlander after surrendering solo homers to Hunter and Alex Avila along with five other hits over six-plus innings to get the win a month ago.
He had gone winless since that game until beating the Angels on Monday, giving up three runs, eight hits and a season-high four walks in 6 2-3 innings of a 4-3 victory. He owns a 2.92 home ERA compared to 6.19 on the road.