Verlander reaches back to stifle Phillies

Verlander reaches back to stifle Phillies

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's 107th pitch Tuesday night came in at 97 mph, leaving Odubel Herrera struggling to foul it off for an 0-2 count. Verlander's 108th and final pitch came in just as fast, and Herrera couldn't catch up, yielding Verlander's 10th strikeout as the crowd roared at Comerica Park.

"I had a pretty good idea that was it," Verlander said, "so I kind of let the rest of the gas out of the tank."

Fans stayed on their feet to applaud Verlander on his way into the dugout, his scoreless performance preserved through eight innings of three-hit ball in an eventual 3-1 Tigers win over the Phillies.

It looked like a scene out of 2011, maybe 2012, when games like this were a regular summer attraction every five days. Verlander could tune up his velocity whenever he wanted back then. The more veteran Verlander is supposed to find ways to keep hitters off-balance, create deception and hit his spots for strikeouts.

Verlander's success wasn't the surprise Tuesday night, not the way he's been pitching in May. It was the way he did it. Verlander challenged the Phillies with his fastball, challenged them early and late. Whenever he needed to make a pitch, it was almost always the fastball, usually with some zing on it.

"His fastball's really working for him," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's getting swings and misses on it. His slider was really good tonight -- a hard slider, probably borderline cutter at times, but it was outstanding."

Verlander's 14th pitch of the night was a 95-mph fastball that he blew past Maikel Franco with a runner on second in the opening inning, He usually starts out throwing slower than that and builds up. The way he felt Tuesday, he could gear up from the outset and still have something left.

"I think I'm feeling good," Verlander said. "Ball's coming out good. I definitely didn't feel like I was overdoing it in that spot or letting it all hang out. It's just kind of as the season's progressed, as the weather's warmed, started to feel better and better. Ball's just coming out better."

The first inning was the only situation Verlander faced with a runner in scoring position, courtesy of a Freddy Galvis double. The only other hits he allowed were singles from Ryan Howard leading off the second inning and Joseph with one out in the seventh. Neither advanced, and Howard was erased on a double play.

Verlander retired 11 Phillies in a row, five of them by strikeout, from the third inning into the seventh. His efficiency allowed him to cruise late into the game with little sweat on a warm night in downtown Detroit.

It marked his fourth straight outing pitching seven or more innings. He has allowed four runs on 16 hits over 30 1/3 innings in that stretch, walking nine and striking out 37.

"Each start's been a little bit different," he said. "Tonight was the fastball mainly. Changeup was pretty good when I needed it. Had some decent sliders mixed in there. Curveball wasn't great. The start before, changeup was good, curveball was good, slider wasn't very good. It's just a little bit of everything. Overall, I think it just goes back to consistency with the fastball and locating it."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. 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.