Justin Verlander woke up on this Memorial Day the possessor of a 3.66 ERA, fresh off three straight subpar starts even by the league’s standard. Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez have done their best to distract from his performance, but 16 earned runs over 12.2 innings is a difficult line to ignore. Fans of the Detroit Tigers have panicked a bit about Verlander’s work, some radicals even claiming his large new contract has put too much pressure on the ace.
He was back on track at Comerica Park today though, facing the Pittsburgh Pirates. The pitcher got behind early and scuffled late, but finished the day with a season-high 13 strikeouts, giving up three runs on seven hits over seven innings in a 6-5 victory for Detroit. Though he visibly and frequently disagreed with home plate umpire Tony Randazzo, he found a way to strike out five batters looking.
The win moved Verlander to 6-4 for the year. It looked like it could easily be his best start of the young season until he surrendered two runs on three extra-base hits, including the first two triples he has seen since June 4th of last year, in his final frame,. He kept his pitch count low early, finishing the third inning with a season-low 38, helping him throw a full seven innings for the sixth time this year using just 110 total pitches.
Verlander has not started the season the way he would have wanted, but reports of his demise have been exaggerated. Without one terrible start last week at the Texas Rangers, in which he allowed eight earned runs in 2.2 innings, his ERA would be sitting at 2.70. His strikeout rate has improved to 14.64 for his last four starts, having sent down 32 batters over 19.2 innings. He had struck out 9.71 batters per nine over his first seven starts.
Still, he has thrown only 66 innings through 11 starts. That’s his lowest innings pitched total of his career at this point in a season. Last year, 11 starts carried him through 81.1 innings.
The Pirates have always seemed an easy opponent for Verlander. In four career starts against the club, he has a 4-0 record with a 1.97 ERA.
With their ace on his game, the Tigers’ rotation is possibly the best in baseball. In Detroit’s last four games, the group has gone 3-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 29 innings pitched. For the year, they have a 3.73 ERA and lead all major league rotations in strikeouts with 322.