SAN DIEGO (AP) Sometime soon, a baseball will be getting a prominent spot among the trophies on Justin Verlander’s mantle.
It’s the ball he hit up the middle for a single in the second inning Saturday night, the one that will forever shut up his teammates.
Verlander had the first two hits of his career and recovered from throwing 31 pitches in the first inning to pitch seven strong innings and lead the Detroit Tigers to a 6-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
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”It felt great. It’s been a long time and I can finally get all these guys off my back …,” Verlander said.
Verlander had been 0 for 26 with 15 strikeouts in his career when he stepped in against Ian Kennedy in the second inning and singled up the middle. When the ball came back to Kennedy, he tossed it to a ball boy near the Padres’ dugout. Home plate umpire Seth Buckminster motioned for the ball boy to throw it to the Tigers’ dugout.
”I think the Padres and probably Ian didn’t know that I had never had a hit,” Verlander said. ”It’s been nine years in the big leagues now. They probably weren’t thinking about that but I sure as heck was. I was watching that ball like a hawk.”
The last time Verlander had a hit?
”High school. It’s been a long time,” he said.
”I guess I have no more leverage,” catcher Alex Avila said. ”We’re all happy for him. It was fun to watch.”
Verlander cited a list of times when he came close to getting a hit.
”I think it’s kind of been an anomaly that I haven’t had one yet,” he said. ”I feel like I’ve probably hit five or six hard that have been caught.”
Verlander singled to right in the fourth, although he had to hustle to avoid being thrown out by Chris Denorfia.
”I hit it pretty hard, too. It was a bang-bang play but I beat it out, thank goodness,” said Verlander, who eventually scored on Torii Hunter’s two-run single.
The sight of Verlander (1-1) on the mound at Petco Park was another reminder of how the Padres flubbed the top pick in the June 2004 amateur draft. Not wanting to pay a big signing bonus, the team passed on players such as Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew and Verlander in favor of local shortstop Matt Bush.
Bush, who signed for $3 million, never reached the big leagues and had numerous off-field problems. In December 2012, he was sentenced to four years and three months in a Florida prison for a drunken driving hit-and-run crash.
Verlander was taken by the Tigers with the second pick. He has thrown two no-hitters and came within two outs of a third, won the AL MVP and Cy Young Award in 2011, was voted AL Rookie of the Year in 2006 and is a six-time All-Star.
Verlander allowed two runs and eight hits, struck out eight and walked one. He improved to 2-0 against the Padres, having also beaten them at Petco Park in 2008.
”He’s a guy who obviously has that power arm when he needs to,” San Diego’s Yonder Alonso said. ”He works his way into the game and if he feels like he’s in trouble, he’s going to attack. He made some good pitches but we just missed a lot of guys on base.”
The Tigers had plenty of offense one night after being held to one hit by Andrew Cashner in a 6-0 loss. Austin Jackson hit a two-run double one batter after Miguel Cabrera was intentionally walked to load the bases in the ninth; Hunter, who missed the previous two games with a bruised left knee, hit a two-run single; and Cabrera and Ian Kinsler each had an RBI double. Rajai Davis scored three runs.
San Diego got its runs on Jedd Gyorko’s sacrifice fly and Yasmani Grandal’s RBI single.
Kennedy (1-2) allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings. He struck out seven and walked one.
NOTES: A candidate in the Padres’ in-season contest to find a new public address announcer committed a big flub in the first inning. As Cabrera, the two-time AL MVP, walked to the plate, he was announced as Austin Jackson. Cabrera turned and looked up at the booth. Frank Anthony, the Padres’ PA announcer since Petco Park opened in 2004, was fired in January so the team could hold open tryouts as part of the 10th anniversary of Petco Park. … The series concludes Sunday when reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (0-0, 1.20 ERA) is scheduled to face Tyson Ross (0-2, 4.35).