Verlander looks to improve after rough start

Despite throwing 111 pitches over 4 1/3 innings, righty says stuff getting better

Verlander looks to improve after rough start

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander missed out on pitching in rain and snow Sunday night against the Yankees thanks to an early rainout. It might have been easier than what he faced in warmer weather in Monday's 7-4 loss to the Pirates.

No National League team has seen more of Verlander, a 25-game winner in Interleague Play, than the Pirates. The most common memory is the five-pitch battle between Verlander and Josh Harrison on May 18, 2012, when Harrison broke up Verlander's no-hit bid in the ninth inning.

Nearly every at-bat the Bucs took against Verlander on Monday felt like that Harrison at-bat. Instead of a no-hitter, Verlander ended up with a different rare feat. For the second time in his life, and the 13th time by any Tiger, he threw 110 pitches without getting through the fifth inning.

"Each and every guy in that lineup seemed to be locked in and feeling good at the plate," Verlander said. "When guys are like that, you have to be really on your game and execute, and I wasn't today."

Verlander threw 111 pitches over 4 1/3 innings. The Pirates fouled off 25 of them, extending at-bats. They hit 10 others for base hits, half of those in two-strike counts.

The Pirates swung at 50 Verlander pitches and missed on just six.

"Today it felt like they hit everything," Verlander said. "Really, I don't recall getting many swings and misses at all. It's kind of that snowball effect -- when a lineup like this is locked in and guys continue to put up good at-bat upon good at-bat, they see a lot of pitches come through the lineup the second and third time. And then it's tougher and tougher to get them to fish or get them out. It's just one of those days."

Pittsburgh scored in all five innings Verlander began. Every rally began with a double, three to lead off an inning. Although no Pirates player homered, 77 of Verlander's 111 pitches came with runners on base, compounding the stress of the raw pitch total.

The Bucs seemed to shrug off Verlander's secondary pitches early and focus on the fastball. Ninth-place batter Jordy Mercer fouled off four consecutive 0-2 pitches -- three fastballs and a curveball -- before lining a slider back at a ducking Verlander and into center field for a two-run double in the second inning.

Mercer's two-run single

"I had thrown him a bunch of heaters, a couple curveballs, the kitchen sink," Verlander said.

John Jaso fouled off five fourth-inning pitches -- four fastballs and a curve -- after falling into an 0-2 count, staying alive for a sacrifice fly to score a fifth run.

Jaso's sacrifice fly

The positive side, Verlander said, was his stuff is getting better. He has had rough April outings in past years, even the great ones, and found his stuff in May.

He didn't have to pitch in the rain, but it still poured.

"Tough day all around to try to find it," Verlander said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for 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.