Verlander's gem provides silver lining to tough series

Verlander's gem provides silver lining to tough series

SEATTLE -- Yes, the Tigers were swept out of Seattle in three hard-fought games that encompassed a total of 33 innings.

Yes, the team has lost four in a row and is banged up, with Cameron Maybin's addition to the disabled list the latest bummer to hit a lineup that has rarely been whole this season.

Yes, Detroit remains 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central standings and is now a game behind Boston for the second AL Wild Card spot.

And yes, Justin Verlander is as awesome as ever.

If there were any positives to take away from a tough 3-1 loss to the Mariners on Wednesday night, that was the major one.

Sure, Thursday's off-day comes at a key time, with a tired bullpen and four hours on a plane to Texas to think about how to tackle another tough opponent in the AL West-leading Rangers. But with Verlander operating at the elite level that he continued to display in seven uneven but ultimately excellent innings at Safeco Field, Detroit will take its chances while getting healthier.

"He's our guy," Tigers catcher James McCann said of Verlander, who got a no-decision after allowing one run on seven hits and striking out six while walking two. "He's the dude, and I think everyone expects that, fair or unfair. Again, he did it tonight. He found a way to get it done."

Verlander, the AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP in that magical year of 2011, has been looking more and more like that dude lately, now that he's past health woes of the last several seasons. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month for July and hasn't been shabby in August, either. He hasn't lost since June 26 and has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last eight starts. Since July 2, he's 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA.

Of course, none of those numbers were good enough to get a much-needed victory on Wednesday, and that's what Verlander harped on postgame when asked if he was having fun trading innings with another former Cy Young winner, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Verlander threw 121 pitches while Hernandez also went seven innings, giving up one run and throwing 117.

"It wasn't fun," Verlander said. "We lost. That's the bottom line. We needed to win this game. Obviously, this is baseball and we can turn the page and move on to the next series, but it's a tough start to a tough road trip. We have good enough talent in here and good enough guys and veteran presence to move on to the next series and not let this affect us. But, overall, kind of a tough series."

Verlander did his part to get the Tigers out of the hole, though. He labored early, with the Mariners running up his pitch count in the first three innings, but Verlander struck out two in a perfect fourth, got out of a jam in the fifth with a double play against Nelson Cruz, and struck out the side in the sixth before giving up only a single in the seventh. He hit 95 mph on his 121st and final pitch of the evening, getting Seth Smith to fly out to left field.

"He was up [in pitches] a little bit early, but like good pitchers do, they're able to have a short inning to get that pitch count back to where it needs to be," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "That's what he did, and he was able to give us a little extra up to 120 pitches and help our bullpen out."

Now the Tigers have to regroup and get wins on the board. Verlander's already back as the unquestioned staff ace, and from the way he was talking after this tough defeat, he's not afraid to lead his injury-depleted club out of this funk either.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint," Verlander said. "We've got enough guys to plug the holes. I've got faith in every one of our guys that goes in and plays for us."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.