It was the first decent ballgame weather of the year, so my wife talked me into heading out to the Coliseum and taking in tonight's Tigers-A's game. My reluctance came from the thought of watching Esteban Loaiza throw softballs at the opposition after a long day of work, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the opportunity to watch Justin Verlander's first career appearance in Oakland to take her up on the offer.
If you don't know anything about Justin Verlander, or why I would be excited to watch him, all you need to know is shown on this picture of the scoreboard I took at the game:
Our seats were way down by the Tigers bullpen, so I didn't really have a good view of the strike zone, but obviously, he had great stuff. I couldn't tell exactly what he was throwing, but he had three speeds: 96-101mph, 81-83mph, and 75-78mph. The first was obviously his fastball, the second I'm guessing was a changeup, and the third was maybe a curveball. Correct me if I'm wrong.
When Verlander got ahead in the count, he could make the A's look foolish at times chasing the slow pitches out of the zone. But he seemed to have trouble throwing strikes to the left-handed batters, and he didn't seem to have much confidence that he could throw his slow stuff for strikes when he was behind in the count. As a result, the A's managed to put some good wood on the ball a few times.
Nick Swisher provided two of those times. He launched a two-run homer in the second inning off a fastball. In his next at-bat, Verlander made Swisher look silly with changeups, and Swisher struck out. The third time, Swisher sat on the changeup, and launched it for a game-winning home run.
I wonder whether the difference in speeds between Verlander's fastball and his changeup isn't a little too much. If his changeup is 81-83, he might be better off throwing the fastball around 94-96 most of the time, and cranking it up to 101 when he needs to. That's what Rich Harden, who is Verlander's most obvious comp, does, and it's a very effective strategy. Harden's changeup is a little harder than Verlander's, though--Harden throws it around 86mph.
Still, when a guy throws 101mph, you'll take a few imperfections. If I were a Tiger fan, I'd be very excited for his future. If I were a Tiger fan, I'd also be frightened for his future, after watching Jim Leyland let Verlander throw 121 pitches this early in the season, this early in his career. The Tigers didn't even have anyone warming up until Verlander had thrown 115. That's crazy.
So Verlander pitched fairly well, but his defense betrayed him a bit with a couple of errors, and the A's pitched well, too. Esteban Loaiza gave the first of what the A's hope will be many quality starts. Loaiza's velocity was better than his last time out--he hit 89 on the gun at times--but still not the low-90s that he's used to throwing. But that little extra speed that has been missing up until how seemed to do the trick. Loaiza gave a solid outing, gave his team a chance to win, and they did. Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street (sans voodoo) closed it out with three scoreless innings.
Quality start, solid bullpen, late run--that's the M.O. we want to see from the A's. More of this, please.
And thus ended Justin Verlander's first appearance against the A's. As a footnote, the result may have been the most crowded scoreboard I've ever seen:
Somebody call security! An entire ER is missing!
I can't recall ever seeing all 18 spaces on that scoreboard filled up with pitchers' names before, let alone having it flow over by a couple of letters. Is this--20 letters--the most combined letters ever in the last names of two pitchers involved in a decision at the Coliseum?