Astros hope to salvage split in L.A. behind Verlander (Oct 25, 2017)

October 25, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers figured out a way to get through Houston Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, but now comes a matchup against a revived Justin Verlander.

In four appearances (three starts) in this postseason, Verlander has a 1.46 ERA over 24 2/3 innings, striking out 24 with six walks. Every time Verlander has touched the mound this October, the Astros have come away with a victory.

"Verlander is going to be throwing 95 (mph) to 98, 99," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "And he's really found that slider, and he's got the breaking ball to change off that."

It sounds a lot like the arsenal that Los Angeles left-hander Clayton Kershaw flashed during the Dodgers' Game 1 victory Tuesday, minus a few miles per hour on the fastball. If Verlander follows the Kershaw blueprint (seven innings, one run, no walks, 11 strikeouts in a 3-1 win), the Astros could be headed back to Houston with the 1-1 split they were looking for.

Verlander went a combined 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA for the Detroit Tigers and the Astros in the regular season. He is 9-0 with a 1.23 ERA in a Houston uniform, regular season and postseason combined.

The veteran right-hander has no problem admitting that he is feeling as good as ever right now, and pitching in the playoffs is only heightening his senses.

"I think the mental focus is just another level," Verlander said. "I think it's something that would be easy to say, why don't you just do that every game? It's unsustainable throughout the course of the regular season. If you were that mentally focused, you'd just burn out. It's just another level. I don't know how to really explain it."

Now 34, Verlander can rely on the mental side of his game even more, while the physical side has returned to being elite. After he joined the Astros following an Aug. 31 trade, the Houston coaching staff marveled at how he can work his way through a game.

"It is pretty remarkable," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I was told when he first got here that he gets stronger throughout the game, both by him and by other people, and everything speaks to that. And then when you watch it happen at the biggest stage and some of the biggest moments in some of our biggest games, you become a believer.

"It's in his DNA; he's a finisher mentally, just as much as he is physically. He prepares himself. He studies. Again, that doesn't help him physically finish, but it does give him a mental edge every game that he pitches."

The Dodgers' Game 2 starter, Rich Hill, is 37, but he has made just six previous postseason appearances and will be making his World Series debut. Banished to independent baseball just a few years ago, Hill resurrected his career by leaning on his curveball more than ever while changing arm angles to keep hitters off balance.

That revival began when he returned to being a starting pitcher for the independent Long Island Ducks in 2015. His makeup and arsenal was eye-opening enough for the Red Sox to give him a chance. Hill bounced quickly from Boston to the Oakland A's and now to the Dodgers, turning himself into a feel-good story along the way.

"Really going back and thinking about that, it was a great experience," Hill said. "I wouldn't change that for anything. It was learning, again, reigniting that fire, reigniting that passion for what we do out there on the field. And really getting back into disassociating yourself with the results and just understanding that it is a pitch-to-pitch process and understanding that the moment is all that matters."

Hill went 12-8 with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts in the regular season, and he has no decisions and a 3.00 ERA through two postseason starts.

The left-hander is used to facing his challenges head-on. That mentality could come in handy during Game 2 against Houston.

"This is a tough lineup," Hill said of the Astros. "And it's really going to be just a great battle of effort, really, on both sides.

"You see guys like Jose Altuve, Josh Reddick, who many of us know here from last year, Brian McCann, just some really great players and great people on the other side. And with that, they bring that effort. And you're going to see it from their side and you're going to see it from our side. We'll see where the results fall in the end."