Verlander off his game in rain-shortened loss to A's

Verlander off his game in rain-shortened loss to A's

Verlander off his game in rain-shortened loss to A's

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's opening inning lasted 25 minutes and 44 pitches, the most he has thrown in a single inning in his career. His actual downfall Tuesday night took longer than that.

By the time A's cleanup hitter Brandon Moss hit his go-ahead home run with two outs in the fifth, it felt much later. The way the rain was falling, it felt like a go-ahead homer in the ninth.

If the pace didn't give off enough of that feeling, the steady rain did. It began in the second inning and continued until the umpires called the game in the sixth for a 6-3 Tigers loss.

"We both had our chances," manager Jim Leyland said. "They took advantage."

Detroit's second consecutive defeat to Oakland sent Verlander to double-digit losses for the first time since 2008, yet it felt more like a 2010 type of outing for him. He had long early innings seemingly with regularity that year, only to recover with quick middle innings.

Verlander averaged around 6 2/3 innings a start that year. He averaged better than seven innings a start in 2011 and '12. With Tuesday's five innings, he's averaging just over six innings a start this season.

In the end, as rough as Verlander looked in the outset, the difference came down to Moss' two-run homer on a hanging changeup Verlander was struggling to grip.

"I felt like I got in a pretty good groove there, getting some quick outs. And then, unfortunately, a changeup didn't do anything," Verlander said. "I was drenched. Literally my fingers were like I just got out of the bathtub."

Cleveland's loss in Atlanta meant Detroit didn't surrender any ground in the AL Central. The Tigers remain 5 1/2 games up in the division.

Verlander (12-10), meanwhile, remains an enigma for the defending AL champions. After a stretch in which the former Cy Young and MVP seemed to regain his old form, Tuesday marked his second consecutive non-quality start, and sent him to double-digit losses for the first time since 2008 and just the second time in his career. Unlike last Thursday against the Twins, however, his damage wasn't an abundance of base hits, just big ones when the A's needed them.

Oakland totaled four hits on Verlander over his five innings. Three of those hits drove in runs. All three plated a runner that had reached base without a base hit.

His stuff wasn't particularly good, which explains the three walks, two of which set up runs. On this night, at least, neither was his luck, which is partly why he paid so dearly for the stuff.

"You never quite know what's going to happen until you step on the rubber in the game, no matter how good your control is in the bullpen," Verlander said. "That could always be different in the game, and today was one of those examples. [I] was pretty sharp in the bullpen, then came out there and wasn't quite able to find it."

The A's fouled off 13 of Verlander's 44 first-inning pitches, six fouls coming during the three-batter sequence that put Verlander on the defensive from the outset. He was ahead on Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie and ended up watching all of them reach base.

Crisp worked out of a 1-2 count for a walk. Donaldson escaped an 0-2 hole to line a single to right. Lowrie fouled off three pitches before his popup fell just inside the foul line in short right field for a two-run double.

By the time Verlander took the mound for the second, he had a lead to protect, thanks to Prince Fielder's two-run single and an Alberto Callaspo error on Omar Infante's two-out ground ball. Verlander sent down the side in order in the second and recorded two quick outs in the third, seemingly in command.

It was a throwback to the pitch-conservation mode that had saved Verlander so many times a few years back. In this case, it allowed Verlander to feel his mechanics were in order.

"When I started slowing down a little bit and just trying to pitch to contact and lower my pitch count -- and [pitching coach Jeff Jones] said he saw it, and I felt it -- there were times when it felt great," Verlander said. "There's a series of pitches where it's like, 'That's it.' And then there'd be one or two where I feel like my arm's a little late."

That two-out situation in the third inning was one of those, with Verlander falling victim to two hitters he struck out in the first. He had a 1-2 count on Moss, who fouled off back-to-back fastballs to stay alive, then lost a curveball off the plate and a fastball up to walk him.

Yoenis Cespedes fell back into an 0-2 count, setting himself up to chase another 96-mph fastball high. This time, however, Verlander didn't get it in, putting it over the plate instead. Cespedes lined it into the left-field corner for an RBI double and a 3-3 game.

"When you're a starting pitcher, everything's about consistency. You need to be able to repeat," Verlander said. "I know that, and it's just a matter of getting there."

Moss came back up in the fifth thanks to an Infante error with one out on a Donaldson grounder. The Tigers had retired Donaldson at second on a Lowrie ground ball, but couldn't get the double play.

The first changeup to Moss was down and away. The second one wasn't.

"The second at-bat did a lot for my confidence against him, as far as knowing I was able to battle him a bit," Moss said. "There was a changeup first pitch, a really good one, and he came back with one that didn't have that same bite to it. It just stayed up, and I swung as hard as I could, and luckily it got out at least by a few feet."

Given the weather, it was a fifth-inning homer that felt like a game-winner. Four batters and a Seth Smith homer into the sixth, with Bruce Rondon slipping off the mound and tweaking his back, the umpires called for the tarp. Like Verlander's fateful changeup, they never came back.

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.