Pirates chase Verlander early, beat Tigers 7-4
DETROIT (AP) — Justin Verlander has never been a big fan of April.
That’s why it was surprising when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his season-opening start last week in Miami.
Monday, though, things got back to normal.
The Pittsburgh Pirates doubled five times off Verlander and drove his pitch count up to unsustainable levels before chasing him in the fifth inning of a 7-4 victory over Detroit.
In a 12-season career, Verlander is 17-19 with a 3.96 ERA in March and April. It is the only month where his winning percentage is under .561, and the one where he strikes out the fewest batters.
"My Aprils, historically, are a little up and down," he said. "But once it clicks, it goes. I’m feeling good, and I like the way the ball is coming out of my hand."
Verlander (0-1) allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings. His 111 pitches were the most he’s thrown in an outing lasting fewer than five innings.
He appeared to have good stuff early, but the Pirates were able to run up his pitch counts in the first two innings. Verlander needed 18 pitches as Pittsburgh scored a run in the first, then threw 37 in the second.
"It felt like they hit anything – I don’t remember getting many swings and misses," he said. "It is kind of a snowball effect, especially against a lineup like that. They get locked in and pile good at-bat on good at-bat, and by the second or third time through the order, they’ve seen a lot of pitches."
Much of the damage was done by the bottom five batters in the Pirates order, as they went a combined 10-for-17 with three doubles.
"When you are getting that kind of production from the bottom of your order, any major-league team is going to do well," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They were squaring up all balls and fouling off a lot of good pitches – everyone was – and that’s going to play well."
Jonathan Niese (1-0) gave up four runs — three earned — and five hits in six innings. Three relievers finished, with Matt Melancon pitching a one-hit ninth for his third save.
Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez homered for the Tigers, who have lost two straight after a 3-0 start.
Matt Joyce hit an RBI single in the first, ending a 31 at-bat hitless streak dating to July 9 against Seatte’s Felix Hernandez, and Jody Mercer fouled off four two-strike pitches in the second, then lined a two-run single for a 3-0 lead. Castellanos hit a solo homer in the bottom half, but sacrifice flies by Francisco Cervelli in the third and John Jaso in the fourth boosted the lead to 5-1.
With the Pirates fouling off many Verlander pitches and an announced crowd of 26,271 on a chilly weekday afternoon, 39-year-old Bill Dugan caught five foul balls in the first eight innings. Three were easy pop flies over the backstop, but he also snared two ricochets off the facing of the press box.
Dugan, who shares season tickets with a friend, said he’s caught over 200 balls during games and batting practice. He said his previous single-game record was four in 2002.
Dugan, who gave all the balls to nearby kids, drew the biggest cheers of the game and posed for selfies with impressed fans.
Joyce had two hits against Verlander and his hitting .400 (8 for 20) against his former Tigers teammate. Josh Harrison, who singled and scored in the second, had a famous moment against Verlander in 2012, breaking up a no-hit bid with one out in the ninth.
McCann threw out Joyce and Polanco trying to steal. The Tigers have only allowed one stolen base in six tries this season, with McCann throwing out four of five runners and Jarrod Salatamacchia catching his only one.
Pirates: C Elias Diaz is resting his throwing arm and hopes to return to action in the next couple weeks. Diaz, who won’t need surgery for his sore elbow, is expected to start his season in Triple-A.
Tigers: James McCann left in the sixth inning after rolling an ankle in a collision with Jaso at first. X-rays were negative, but the Tigers were waiting on MRI results. Salatamacchia is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, but they do have one empty slot. … RHP Daniel Norris (back) and RHP Alex Wilson (shoulder) each pitched two scoreless innings for Class A Lakeland during injury rehabilitation assignments Sunday.
In the second game of the series at Comerica Park, part of a four-game home-and-home stretch between the teams, Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez (1-0) is to start Tuesday against Juan Nicasio (1-0, 1.50).