Verlander takes blame for loss to Jays
Tigers righty gives up eight runs; Inge, Granderson homer
TORONTO -- Justin Verlander needed 35 pitches to retire the side in the opening inning. Roy Halladay needed 35 pitches to retire the Tigers' lineup in order through three.
It was that kind of night for Verlander, whose Spring Training adjustments faced harsh scrutiny under the bright lights of Opening Night at Rogers Centre. Yet, even in the Tigers' 12-5 loss to the Blue Jays, it was a game he might've salvaged with one or two more pitches.
When manager Jim Leyland kept harping last week that his starters need to keep battling on bad nights to give Detroit's offense a chance to slug them back into the game, this was arguably an example. In the end, it wasn't the four-run opening inning that doomed Verlander, but the two extra runs he allowed and two runners he left on base for Adam Lind's three-run homer once Eddie Bonine entered.
Instead of a potential comeback, it ended up being the highest run total the Tigers have yielded on Opening Day since a 15-8 loss to the White Sox in 1908. It was a night when Verlander gave credit to Blue Jays hitters, but he wasn't going to suggest that the numbers didn't reflect his outing.
"I'm kind of sick of saying that," Verlander said. "At some point, I need to hold myself responsible for the numbers that are being put up. I can't keep saying that I feel like I've thrown better than the numbers say. I just have to do something about it."
Only once in Verlander's previous 97 starts had he given up that many earned runs, and that was against his old nemesis in his rookie season. Cleveland plated eight on him at Jacobs Field on Aug. 26, 2006. Monday started Verlander's fourth year in the rotation, and he was eagerly awaiting the chance to put some of his Spring Training adjustments to work in real games.
The changes, he felt, carried over. The results did not.
While he made a point to work his curveball early and often for strikes, Verlander's fastball deserted him at times. In the case of the opening inning, it left him after he retired Toronto's first two batters, then promptly lost Alex Rios to a full-count walk.
"You just got two outs with nobody on base," Leyland said. "You want to get ahead. He got behind, walked the guy and just couldn't come out of it."
A changeup to Vernon Wells turned into a double and runners at second and third, putting Verlander in a situation where he did have to pitch cautiously. He put the 1-2 fastball he wanted inside to Adam Lind at 98 mph, but he lined it into short right field for two quick runs.
"I feel like I had him in the situation and made the pitch I wanted," Verlander said. "I threw exactly where I wanted, and he was able to get just enough on it, hit a little blooper over the first baseman's head. Really nothing I can do about that."
A hit-by-pitch to Scott Rolen extended the inning for Lyle Overbay, who lined a double into the gap in left-center field for two more runs. By the time Verlander got out of it, new pitching coach Rick Knapp made his first mound visit, and Verlander's pitch count was high enough that he had to adjust if he was going to last long in the game.
For a while, the adjustment worked. By taking a tick off his fastball, Verlander had better command of it, and while not overpowering hitters, was effective enough to induce outs. He retired seven Jays in an eight-batter stretch from the second inning into the fourth, three of them by strikeout in mixing his curveball.
Then came Travis Snider, who hit a first-pitch fastball deep to left for a solo homer with one out in the fourth and a 5-0 Jays lead.
The inning fell apart from there. Marco Scutaro tripled to the fence in right-center field. Aaron Hill drove him in on a fly ball to shallow left. After Rios doubled off the fence in left, Verlander threw four straight fastballs out of the zone to Wells, leaving Leyland no choice but to come out and make the move.
"When he walked Wells, the last hitter he faced, look, he was just throwing hard," Leyland said.
Lind greeted Bonine with a drive over the fence in center.
Curtis Granderson's fourth-inning solo homer marked Detroit's lone tally through six innings off Halladay (1-0) before the Tigers tried to slug their way back into the game in the seventh. Carlos Guillen and Gerald Laird drove in a run each before Brandon Inge hit an opposite-field two-run homer.
Even at 9-5, the Tigers had the tying run on deck in the top of the eighth inning. But once Juan Rincon walked two batters and gave up two hits in a three-run eighth, any shot at getting back in the game was over.
"We got back into it, obviously," Leyland said. "We just didn't stop it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.