Bunting Verlander moving in 'right direction'

Told not to swing at plate, Tigers righty makes progress on hill in five-plus-inning start

Bunting Verlander moving in 'right direction'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Justin Verlander put up a good fight. Not only with hitters, but with hitting.

"When the manager says, 'Don't swing,' I'm not going to go up there and hack away," Verlander said. "I lobbied a little bit for it, though."

Before he stepped to the plate and squared to bunt leading off the third inning, he looked to manager Brad Ausmus for leniency on his bunt instruction heading into Saturday's 6-5 win over the Phillies.

"I'm like, 'Brad, you're going to get me booed,'" Verlander said. "Sure enough."

Said Ausmus: "And I said, 'I don't care.' I said, 'I've been booed many times.'"

Verlander put down his first bunt toward the pitcher, took two steps and stopped, which prompted some of the boos. He had some fun with it, doffing his helmet and taking a brief bow, which drew an applause from most of the crowd at Bright House Field.

Fans razz Verlander after bunt

"I told him not to run hard," Ausmus said. "I don't want him coming out of the box tweaking a hammy or something because he's trying to beat out a bunt that they're more than likely going to throw him out on."

Verlander's second at-bat wasn't quite so good, a soft line-drive bunt that first baseman Ryan Howard snared without much trouble. But the at-bats accomplished Ausmus' purpose of preparing him for the at-bats he'll face when the Tigers open the regular season with Interleague Play at Miami on April 5.

Verlander's pitching, too, is still a work in progress. He gave up three runs on seven hits over five-plus innings with a walk and two strikeouts. Verlander's actual pitches, meanwhile, were a mixed selection as he saw them.

"Overall, it's a step in the right direction," Verlander said. "Left some pitches up. Curveball was much better. Slider wasn't quite there today. But overall, not a bad day."

The home run Verlander allowed came on a fastball he said was headed towards the dirt, with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia moving to block it as Freddy Galvis golfed it out.

Most of Verlander's swings and misses came on a change of speeds, including the curveball. His fastball velocity wasn't quite there, normally around 92-93 mph while topping out at 94, but it worked well when setting up something else. When he tried to back up his fastballs to pinch-hitting pitcher Vince Velasquez, he gave up a hit.

On a warm, humid Gulf Coast afternoon, Verlander worked on the curveball over and over until he got a feel for it, which could help him later. The rest could be a focus for his final spring tuneup next Thursday, which could be key for him. It was the last outing when Verlander felt right last spring, just before he tweaked his triceps and left the game, headed for the disabled list.

"I remember thinking, 'I'm ready after the first couple innings,' and then unfortunately I got hurt," Verlander said. "Hopefully everything clicks. You just get out there and throw pitches and things start to click."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.