Gage: Verlander met expectations in season debut
DETROIT -- There will be those who will say it was better than it looked.
There will be some who'll say it was worse.
Don't listen to either side.
The ones who'll be correct are those saying that Justin Verlander's season debut on Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians was. . .O.K.
Not "just" O.K. -- because it was more than marginally acceptable.
"I thought he did a nice job," said manager Brad Ausmus.
But not O.K. as in unanimously good, either -- because the start ended too soon to call it that.
I mean it ended before Verlander at first thought it would -- and certainly before he hoped it would.
"But overall, I felt pretty good," he said. "It was a key step. I just exerted more than I have yet."
After allowing two runs in five innings, throwing 87 pitches in the process -- but needing 28 to get through the fatiguing fifth -- Verlander was removed from the game.
It was sort of odd, but not fractious, how it took place. Verlander didn't initially consult with Ausmus, or with pitching coach Jeff Jones, upon reaching the dugout steps after allowing a run in the fifth.
There was no immediate "good job" pat on the back. Instead, Verlander's input was sought.
It was only after Verlander's conversation with Jones that Blaine Hardy began throwing hard enough in the bullpen for it to become apparent he was about to enter the game -- which he did in the top of the sixth.
"Instead of being a bull in a china shop," Ausmus of Verlander's agreement that it was time for him to come out, "sometimes it's best to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
"He's understanding that a little bit more now."
Verlander left with a 3-2 lead, though -- and would have been the winning pitcher had the Tigers won by that score or retained a lead through the remainder of the game.
But they didn't. Instead, the Indians scored twice in the sixth and once in the eighth to give themselves enough runs to win.
And to erase any chance that Verlander might end up as the winning pitcher.
But can you say he pitched well?
You can if you want. And you can think it, too. But keep in mind that it doesn't mean a starter pitched well if he didn't pitch badly.
So it's within that vast in-between that we will find the accurate assessment of Verlander's debut.
Here's what went right for him: He was not wild, walking only two.
Anyone who thought his control would display some rust was incorrect.
And in allowing only three hits, he wasn't hit hard. But he might not always benefit from as many outstanding defensive plays as he did in this game.
An electrifying catch in center by Anthony Gose to deprive Michael Brantley of extra bases in the first inning was especially helpful.
Above all, it can be said that Verlander was effectively methodical. While his Cleveland counterpart, Carlos Carrasco, lit it up with early fastballs in the 97-99 mph range, Verlander didn't unleash his velocity until he was nearly done.
"Stepping on the gas," he called it.
"Dialing it up a notch when he sees a threat," was Ausmus' way of putting it.
It wasn't until the fifth that Verlander upped it to 95-97 -- and kept it there.
But by the fifth, he'd begun to labor.
And in the fifth, it became apparent he would not last much longer.
The reality is that he did not pitch badly. To call his start O.K. is not to be critical of it.
If anything, it's praise because of the progress it represented after his first-ever stint on the disabled list.
No one expected Verlander to throw a complete game. A poll of 11 reporters in the press box had him lasting anywhere from 5 1/3 to seven innings.
Five predicted he would allow two earned runs, five predicted three -- and one said four.
No one thought he would get shelled. No one thought he would fire blanks.
He met expectations, which were that he would pitch. . . O.K.
As was the case.
***If multimedia does not appear right away, please click refresh***