Winner of his previous three starts, Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander turned in his finest performance of the year on Wednesday in a 5-1 Tigers win over Oakland. Verlander went the distance, allowing one run on four hits and a walk while striking out five.
During his postgame meeting with reporters, Verlander started off his first response by saying, "I didn't have my best stuff tonight."
This prompted Detroit's colorful closer, Jose Valverde, who was within an earshot of Verlander, to yell out, "What?" in disbelief.
The way Verlander was dealing, one could hardly blame Valverde. Through seven innings, Verlander only faced one batter over the minimum. His final out, a strikeout of A's outfielder Ryan Sweeney, came on a fastball that touched 96 mph on the stadium radar gun.
"The biggest key for me is controlling my fastball, and I was able to do that tonight to both sides of the plate," Verlander said. "That's where it starts and ends with me. If I'm able to do that, I'm usually going to have a pretty good game."
Aside from harnessing his powerful fastball, Verlander said he made a recent mechanical adjustment -- trying to stand more upright on the rubber -- that's aided him in his last few starts. Over his last four starts, Verlander is now 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 30 innings.
"He's one of the best pitchers in baseball," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "He was tough. He certainly didn't run out of gas there at the end. After 110 pitches, he was still throwing 96, 97 [mph]. A lot of pitchers can keep it up when they start to smell the finish line."
Verlander needed 99 pitches to get through eight innings, but assured manager Jim Leyland he was still good to go in the ninth.
"I checked with him after the eighth and he said he had plenty in the tank yet," Leyland said. "He deserved to be out there obviously in the ninth inning. I thought he was our best choice."
The game was a pitcher's duel to start, as A's starter Dallas Braden matched Verlander's initial six shutout innings, until the Tigers' offense broke it open with four runs in the seventh.
Leyland said he thought Braden's quick pace and rhythm actually benefitted Verlander, as it kept the tempo of the game rolling.
"Braden was good, we weren't doing too much with him," Leyland said. "It was kind of in-and-out, in-and-out. Both pitchers really good tempo going and like I said, I think their guy pitching good helped our guy really."
Braden left the game in seventh inning with an illness and said he received IV on Tuesday and another one after the game. Leyland praised Braden for being able to keep Detroit's hitters off balance, calling it the best performance Braden had ever delivered against the Tigers.
"He was tremendous," Leyland said. "He used both sides of the plate, he used his changeup, he really pitched extremely well. He had tremendous control, I was very impressed with him."
Aside from Verlander's stellar outing, Wednesday was yet another marquee day for Detroit's talented rookies.
Outfielder Casper Wells, who was inserted into the lineup shortly before game time to replace Magglio Ordonez (right ankle), recorded his first big league hit during the third inning. He made the evening even sweeter by doubling in a pair of his teammates during the seventh.
"Man, I can finally take a deep breath," Wells said. "I've got a lot of weight off my shoulders. ... Getting your first knock is the next step, then you can just play the game from there."
Wells said he didn't even keep track of the ball once he hit it, though it eventually ended up in the hands of catcher Gerald Laird in the dugout. Wells said he got a congratulations from A's first baseman Daric Barton upon reaching base, but that he doesn't know what he'll do with the ball.
"When I have a house and have my own room, I can put some of my stuff up there," Wells said. "I've got some Little League trophies in my room now. Little gold guys standing there."
Wells' fellow rookie, second baseman Danny Worth, also had his biggest game since being called up from Triple-A Toledo on Sunday. Worth finished 3-for-3 with an RBI, which came via a single in the eighth to extend Detroit's lead to 5-0.
Wells and Worth are just two of five rookies to make their debut this season, making it the earliest a quintet of Tigers has debuted since 1922.
"We're just going out there and trying to hit the crap out of the ball," Worth said.
Brandon Inge started off the scoring by sending a Braden changeup over the left-center field wall for a leadoff homer in the seventh. The next batter, Laird, laid a bunt down the first-base line and Braden failed to make the play before exiting the game. Laird said he bunted on his own.
"It's something I like to do when I'm struggling like I am now," Laird said.
Laird came around to score on an RBI single by Austin Jackson, before Johnny Damon was intentionally walked. Casper, the next batter, hit the first pitch he saw to left-center, plating Damon and Jackson to make it 4-0.
"When we bring them up, we don't sit them," Leyland said of his rookies. "I think that's what you should do. I don't like to bring guys up and just sit them down, I want to throw them in the fire and see what happens."
Alex Espinoza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.