Verlander struggles in 6-3 loss to A's
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland would never acknowledge that he didn't mind losing a game.
If there had ever been a time, though, it might have been Tuesday night.
When the umpires finally pulled the plug on a rainy 6-3 loss to Oakland, Leyland and the Tigers were facing an ugly situation. Oakland had the bases loaded with no one out in the top of the sixth, and Bruce Rondon had just injured his leg by slipping on the wet mound.
Rondon would have to come out of the game after the rain delay. With Jeremy Bonderman, Jose Alvarez and Al Alburquerque fatigued from Monday's loss, Leyland was either going to have to get multiple innings out of Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly or Jose Veras or use a tired pitcher.
Luckily, after an 80-minute delay, the umpires gave Leyland a break by calling the game.
"Rondon slipped off the mound, but he's OK," Leyland said before acknowledging that he doesn't know if Rondon will be able to pitch on Wednesday. "It was a puzzling night."
The reason for Leyland's confusion? Another baffling start from Justin Verlander. The ace felt great in the bullpen, then came onto the mound and needed a career-high 44 pitches just to get out of the first inning.
"That just shows that it never matters how you feel while you are warming up," Verlander said. "I had great stuff out there, and then I got into the game, and I couldn't control anything. I'd get into a rhythm for a couple batters, and then it would be gone. I just never got into sync."
Change a few words, and Verlander could be talking about the entire season rather than just Tuesday night. For the first time in his career, he had a great April, but the last four months have been a struggle unlike anything he's experienced since going 11-17 in 2008.
"I've been through this before, and I'm a better pitcher now, so I know it is going to click," he said. "I don't know if any pitcher has worked as hard as I have this season. I've worked my butt off, as much as I possibly can.
"There are times that I feel like it has clicked, and then there are times it hasn't been there. Obviously, I would like to figure it out tomorrow and be right back where I should be, but I don't know if that is going to be the case."
Verlander has never lacked for confidence, and he certainly believes that he's going to be right in time for the postseason -- what he called his "absolute deadline." On the other hand, he now admits that he's not sure how that's going to happen.
"There are many, many, many, many things I have tried thus far," he said. "It is to the point where all I can do is just keep going out there and repeating -- repeat, repeat, repeat and hopefully it clicks. For me, once it is there, it is there. It gets ingrained, and then I'm in the groove that I have been in before. That's what I'm searching for."
Leyland also believes that Verlander will find a solution, but isn't about to start making suggestions.
"In my opinion, he's a great pitcher with great stuff that is having some kind of a freak year," he said. "When you've got almost 50 pitches and you are still in the first inning, and you are Justin Verlander, you are obviously not right. Somehow, we've got to figure out a way to get that going.
"But I don't have the answer. I really don't know what to tell you. I swear that I don't. We can talk about this until the cows come home, and I still won't have anything to tell you."
Verlander's first inning was frustrating, but he was immediately bailed out by his teammates. Detroit scored three runs in the bottom of the first to give him a 3-2 lead, and he only needed eight pitches in the second. It didn't last. He walked Brandon Moss with two outs in the third, then allowed a game-tying double to Yoenis Cespedes.
After getting through the fourth, he got burned again during a fifth-inning monsoon, allowing a two-run homer to Moss on an 0-1 pitch.
"That's the hardest rain I've ever pitched in, and by the fifth inning, there wasn't a dry spot on my body -- I was completely soaked," he said. "I thought I could grip a changeup, but it came out flat and he crushed it."
Oakland manager Bob Melvin thought that Cespedes and Moss were taking advantage of the endless first inning.
"We were really patient and we fouled off a lot of balls, so he had to throw 40-some pitches in one inning," Melvin said. "That's probably why we were able to add on runs against him, and that turned out to be huge."
With six weeks left until the postseason, Verlander's clock is ticking.