LAKELAND, Fla. — Justin Verlander knew it was coming and his former teammate didn’t disappoint.
In Thursday night’s 7-2 exhibition loss to the Houston Astros at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Verlander was cruising along until the fourth inning.
Jose Altuve led off with a single. Then Brandon Laird followed with a home run to right field and the Astros led, 2-1.
If the name of the home-run hitter sounds familiar, it should. Laird is the younger brother of Gerald Laird, the former Tigers catcher who is now playing for the Atlanta Braves.
Verlander, who allowed four runs on six hits (three of them home runs) while striking out five in 5 2/3 innings, returned to the clubhouse after his outing and checked his cell phone.
Sure enough, there was a text message from Gerald waiting for him.
“Once he hit it, I was like, ‘Oh, God, I’m never going to hear the end of this,'” Verlander said.
Verlander said he had not yet composed a response but planned to do so later.
While rookie Bruce Rondon has already demonstrated his triple-digit fastball, the veteran Verlander won’t do so until the regular season when he really needs it.
“It’s hard to get yourself amped up for these games,” Verlander said. “Really, the adrenaline’s not there.”
With one start left in spring training, Verlander said he still has a few things he’s working on.
“I made an adjustment a start ago where I stand on my back leg longer and try to drive down the mound and it changed my timing,” Verlander said. “My release time and landing time. So, I had a difficult time with my fastball. Last time, I was keeping it straight and down and I felt like (Thursday) it was better than last time. Just from one five-day span throwing like that normally. So, next time out, it should be better.”
Verlander said he made the adjustment because he felt he was standing a little too tall on the mound.
“I know what I’m supposed to feel like and I just felt like I wasn’t using my legs as much as I should’ve,” Verlander said. “Since I’ve made that adjustment, it’s been easier to throw those low 90s pitches. That’s where I’m usually at and it’s pretty easy for me to hit my spots and that’s where I feel like I was at the first few innings.”
After Laird’s home run, Verlander allowed back-to-back home runs to Carlos Corporan and Matt Dominguez leading off the fifth inning.
“I asked Torii (Hunter) about it and he said he didn’t think either one of them (would be homers) in a regular-season game,” Verlander said. “The ball flies out of here when the wind’s blowing out to right. Remember that game a couple years ago when we hit like, seven or eight home runs in one game? I’m not comparing today to that but the ball was definitely carrying.”
Manager Jim Leyland was not concerned about Verlander allowing three home runs.
“Verlander got a couple balls up,” Leyland said. “One was a hanging slider, one was a fastball out over the plate, one guy golfed one. He threw the ball fine.”
Verlander will make his final start of the spring next Wednesday in a home game against the Philadelphia Phillies.