Fielder delivers big hit after Verlander battles

Fielder delivers big hit after Verlander battles

Fielder delivers big hit after Verlander battles
CINCINNATI -- Justin Verlander's winless streak stretched to four games Saturday. He didn't particularly care.

The line from Verlander's Saturday afternoon at Great American Ball Park will show six innings of two-run ball on six hits with three walks and nine strikeouts, a good but not great outing for him. The Tigers' 3-2 win over the Reds goes to Brayan Villarreal, the reliever who pitched after Verlander.

That's fine with him, because he knew how badly they needed this game.

"We came through," Verlander said of Prince Fielder's go-ahead RBI single to cap a two-out, eighth-inning rally. "If we're going to be a good ballclub, like I think we will be, we're going to have to win these types, these one-run, 3-2, 2-1 type games. Hopefully today gets us on a roll."

The line will show the 127 pitches he threw for his second-highest pitch count of the season, and how he needed every one of them to last six innings for the 55th consecutive outing. It won't show the 34 foul balls Reds hitters used to prolong their at-bats, six of them on the 12-pitch walk to Brandon Phillips that extended his fifth inning to 37 pitches.

The line won't show the 17 pitches Verlander threw trying to get the third out of the fourth inning after Delmon Young's misplay on a ball in the sun left Joey Votto with a double and Verlander with runners on second and third with nobody out.

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It also won't show the eight pitches he threw of at least 100 mph in that inning -- four of them to strike out Jay Bruce and take away a sacrifice-fly opportunity, three of them to Todd Frazier before he connected on a 101-mph fastball. It won't show the look on Verlander's face as Frazier flared the ball into right field for an opposite-field, two-run single and a 2-2 game, nullifying solo home runs from Fielder and Ramon Santiago to open Detroit's lead.

Verlander gets credit for six quality innings. He doesn't necessarily get credit for the kind of innings they were. Manager Jim Leyland will give him credit for it, as will an amazingly large gathering of Tigers fans who made the trip.

When they talk about the heat in this game, it won't be about the 85-degree temperature at first pitch.

"Six innings on some days is one thing, and six innings on another day is another thing. And that's what I mean by another thing," Leyland said. "What you saw today was another thing. That wasn't just a normal six innings. That was an exertion."

That was a throwback outing to Verlander's younger days, when his pitch count would climb like the numbers on a gas pump and he would crank up his fastball early, trying to strike out everyone while hitters fouled back his best pitches. He doesn't like to throw that hard that early anymore. But the way this team has struggled, he wasn't messing around when Chris Heisey's single and Votto's sun-aided double created the Reds' best opportunity.

"I don't like having to do that, simply because it's kind of hard to back it back down," Verlander said. "But I've kind of learned over the years how to do it."

He also wasn't forgetting the second-inning situation when Bruce might have been stealing signs from second base after his one-out double, the only hit off Verlander out of the first 10 batters.

"That's between us and them," Verlander said about the meeting at the mound on a 3-2 pitch with Bruce on second and Ryan Ludwick up in that second inning.

By the time Verlander followed Frazier's game-tying single by striking out Ryan Hanigan in a 10-pitch duel, his pitch count had soared from 46 after three innings to 76 after four. He has those every now and then, but he rarely has them in back-to-back innings, as he did with the 37-pitch fifth.

"We made him work," Bruce said. "We put him on the ropes a couple of times. We couldn't deliver that knockout. He made pitches when he needed to. We couldn't pull it out. We had chances and we didn't capitalize on [them], me in particular a couple of times."

He'd get out of those in his younger days, but he wouldn't last long after them until he learned how to conserve pitches. That's how he became the pitcher he is now.

Had the Tigers rallied in the top of the sixth to bring up Verlander's spot, he would've been out after five innings and 113 pitches. But the Tigers went down in order, and Verlander bargained his way into 15 more pitches from Leyland. He used 14 of them, the last nine to strike out Hanigan.

"We just obviously couldn't go any longer," Leyland said, "but he did a great job of keeping us in there and really pitching through that one inning was tough."

Verlander's pitch count dwarfed Bronson Arroyo's 87 pitches over seven innings of five-hit ball. Aside from the home runs, the only trouble Arroyo encountered was stranding runners on second and third in the fifth inning with an Austin Jackson flyout. For a change, however, the Tigers pounced on the bullpen once Arroyo left.

Lefty Sean Marshall, a friend of Verlander's from their school days in Virginia, was seemingly headed towards an easy inning until Brennan Boesch drove a fly ball off the center-field fence for a two-out double. Marshall intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera to set up the lefty-lefty matchup with Fielder, who was 5-for-23 with 10 strikeouts off Marshall for his career.

Fielder jumped on a first-pitch slider and lofted it through the middle and into shallow center field, soft enough to allow Boesch to beat the throw home. It marked his second go-ahead hit for the Tigers in the eighth inning or later.

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