Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  By DANA WAKIJI  |  Last updated 9/1/13
DETROIT -- If you were watching Justin Verlander in the first inning of Sunday's game, you might have turned off the TV. If you kept watching, you might be feeling a sense of relief right now. Verlander walked two Cleveland Indians and needed 35 pitches to get out of the first inning, although he did not allow a run. Things got progressively better for Verlander, who made it through seven innings without giving up a run. He also threw just 32 pitches in his last three innings combined for a total of 116. Although the Tigers did not earn their 16th win of the season as the Indians salvaged a 4-0 win with Mike Aviles' grand slam off Joaquin Benoit in the ninth inning, in the long run the game could turn out to be a good thing. That is, if Verlander has truly found something that he can repeat on a consistent basis. "It felt great," Verlander said. "There were actually a few adjustments I made during the game, one of the things I've been working on in the bullpen, which I don't really want to get into too much, but then in-game, I threw one pitch and kind of felt something click. It felt right. From then on, tried to focus on that and what that felt like and just build upon that and that was probably about the third or fourth inning that I felt that." In the fourth inning, Verlander struck out Asdrubal Cabrera. He threw Cabrera four fastballs, one of which was the one pitch he was referring to. "I felt like the last couple innings in particular is probably the closest I've felt to being right and even Alex (Avila) said it looked right from behind the plate," Verlander said. "I asked him about it and he said, 'It just looked like you.' That's obviously a big step in the right direction and let's build upon that, let's go forward." Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who was concerned after Verlander's last start, in which he gave up five runs (three earned) in five innings and needed 44 pitches to get out of the first, was encouraged by Sunday's outing. "Early on, he was a little bit straight up, and not getting downhill real good," Leyland said. "But as the game went on, he made the adjustment, started pitching, getting the ball down better. He pitched a terrific game." Avila has caught Verlander more than any other catcher and knows what Verlander looks like when he's "on." "Not so much the velocity, just the way he looked from the start of his leg kick to the follow-through once he released the ball," Avila said. "I've seen him a lot from that angle. It just looked fluid, it looked like a natural motion for him. Where other times earlier in the game, other starts, I can see that he's fighting it, fighting, trying to find his release point and his mechanics. "That last inning, those last couple innings he looked very fluid, very natural." Verlander, who did not factor in the decision, is 12-10 with a 3.59 ERA, lower than the 3.73 he started with Sunday. Verlander has never been one to allow self-doubt to creep in, not even in 2008 when he went 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA. So that's not been an issue this season either. "I can't say it's humbling," Verlander said. "I'm always confident in myself and my ability and I feel like if you get down on yourself and allow yourself to to waver, then you're setting yourself up for even more failure. I know it's in there, I know what's right and it's just a matter of trying to find that." Verlander said although he never lacked for confidence, the way that the fans have treated him during his struggles this season has been very gratifying. "I can honestly say around town and at the field I haven't heard one negative comment," Verlander said. "It's fantastic. Everybody has got my back and it means a lot to me. I've worked extremely hard for this city since I've been here, obviously for myself but for this town, too. Done a lot of great things and it's nice to know that they have my back when things aren't going great, too." Unlike his magical 2011 MVP-Cy Young season, nothing's come easy for Verlander this season. But it will all be worth it if he can find that groove as his team aims towards the playoffs. "I feel like with what I've dealt with this year with all the adjustments I've tried to make and all the work I've put in, I've managed to scrap together some decent numbers," Verlander said. "I think that's a testament to being a better pitcher than I was in the past. "It's just hard work and hopefully that hard work pays off. It's been five months, six-seven months, I guess, if you count spring, of extremely hard work and God, it'd be nice for it to click in the last two months of the season, wouldn't it? Or the last month and hopefully October." NOTES: Leyland said center fielder Austin Jackson would not have been available to play Sunday, except perhaps to pinch run. "It was stiff," Jackson said. "I just had no range of motion. I think its more muscular, like muscle spasm. Its good that the shoulders fine. Didnt do anything to that. Hopefully itll loosen up (Monday), and Ill be fine." Jackson, who received treatment all during Sunday's game, said it was weird to watch the replay of himself crashing into the wall Saturday. When it first happened, he feared he had broken his collarbone. "Once I hit, my neck kind of snapping like that, kind of whiplash a little bit," Jackson said. "I think thats really what took the biggest blow. My shoulders fine. I was a little bit wary about that, just because it kind of went numb for a second. Once I got back on my feet, my wind was completely gone. I had no wind. So I had to catch my breath for a little bit." Jackson's status for Monday's game in Boston remains up in the air. Miguel Cabrera's status is also in question as he missed his second straight game with the abdominal wall strain. "He was moving around a little bit (Sunday)," Leyland said. "Smiling. Came down to the bench for a little bit. He got treated all day. I cant tell you when hell play. I dont know the answer to that." Leyland said it wouldn't necessarily be better to let Cabrera sit for an entire week as the medical staff has assured him that Cabrera can get better while playing. "So unless its something significant, I wouldnt necessarily not play him because of that," Leyland said. "If they thought like, hey, its not going to get better if youre playing him. Hes going to need whatever time obviously you dont need to DL now, its September then you do whatever you think is best medically."
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