Verlander's heat lacks usual effect
Hard-throwing righty gets beat up early against Yankees
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander saw his fastballs wander into the zone and then out of the box. On this afternoon, he had company.
"There was no less than five or six guys throwing a ball from 95-98 [mph]," manager Jim Leyland said after Saturday's 11-7 loss to the Yankees. "There were 30 hits and 18 runs. So that shows you what baseball's all about.
"It just tells you, if you're watching, that there's a whole lot more to this than just the good arms and all that. It's a great example about the art of baseball. It doesn't mean anything how hard you can throw it, unless you can locate it and got something else with it."
He wasn't criticizing Verlander, or any of the handful of pitchers on both sides throwing 95-mph or more. He was just making the point.
Verlander gets that. It wasn't that he was throwing hard without regard to location. But in working on a mechanical tweak, he was throwing hard with the ball higher than he wanted it.
Verlander said he'd been working between starts with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez on how to drive off of his back leg better. He took that into the game, but in so doing, his early pitches stayed up higher than they normally would.
The result was seven runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings.
"Karma was against me today," he said.
His outing could be split into two segments, with the dividing line around the point where he made the next adjustment to get his pitches down while still driving strong off the back leg. Nine of the first 12 Yankees batters reached base safely, and seven of them scored.
After a leadoff walk to Johnny Damon, Verlander gave up five hits in a six-batter span, the first four of them on ground balls until Jason Lane hit a double to the center-field fence. Verlander got out of the inning, but back-to-back singles leading off the second set up a Robinson Cano double over center fielder Curtis Granderson's head in deep left-center.
From there, Verlander retired seven of the final eight batters he faced, starting with back-to-back strikeouts of Jason Giambi and Jose Molina.
Leyland wasn't displeased with the outing as a whole.
"Justin got his work in, and there's nothing wrong with that going on once in a while," Leyland said. "You get the ball up, you get knocked around. He's working on some things. I'm not worried about that. I'm not concerned about that at all. That's not what I'm talking about. I just had to laugh."
He was laughing at the irony of it.
"Ninety-seven -- whack! Ninety-eight -- whack!," Leyland said. "They don't even blink at 97 anymore, unless you've got something that makes your 97 look like 107."
It wasn't simply the fact that so many pitchers were throwing that hard and being roughed around. It was the fact that the velocity was being shown on the radar gun beyond right-center field.
"I would not have a radar gun in Spring Training, under any circumstances," Leyland said. "But it's entertainment for the fans, so that's fine. I understand it. I'm not ripping it. I understand fans like it. But I wouldn't have it in Spring Training under any circumstances. During the season, I can understand."
Verlander was roughed up throwing in the mid-90s. On the day Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain said he let loose on his upper-90s fastballs for the first time this spring, he saw Curtis Granderson take a 97-mph heater out for a leadoff homer. Tigers reliever Denny Bautista was throwing around 96 mph, but also mixing in a breaking ball in the low-80s.
It wasn't a specific pitcher to which Leyland was pointing. It was the game as a whole.
"Five, six guys threw 95-, 97-, 98- [mph]. Thirty hits and 18 runs," Leyland said. "If I was a pitcher, I'd be watching. I'm not mad at anybody. I'm just making a point."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.