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Verlander's variety his biggest weapon

Verlander's variety his biggest weapon

Verlander's variety his biggest weapon
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has made his name as one of baseball's classic power pitchers. The only hurler who threw more 100-mph fastballs than he did as a rookie in 2006 was his teammate, Joel Zumaya. But ask the hitters who have to face him, and they'll say that it's everything else he throws, and throws effectively, that makes him so tough.

On Tuesday the Indians saw just about everything. The one pitch that broke up his no-hitter was a 99-mph fastball.

"He works all his pitches. He really believes in every single one of them," said Orlando Cabrera, whose eighth-inning single was Cleveland's first hit of the game in a 4-0 Tigers win. "He can throw every single pitch for a strike."

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Verlander's fastball is pure ability; the other pitches are the product of hard work over the last several years. The ability to mix them all comes from his maturity. And that's what's making him a threat to throw a no-hitter seemingly every time he takes the mound.

The most memorable pitch Verlander threw in his no-hitter on May 7 at Toronto was a 100-mph fastball on his 106th pitch of the day, ball four to J.P. Arencibia in the eighth inning to give the Blue Jays their first baserunner. His workhorse pitch that day, however, was his slider, which he used for one quick out after another, with just four strikeouts.

On Tuesday he threw only one slider, and not one of his fastballs hit the triple digits. He had a completely different mix, in part because he had a different read on how Indians hitters were approaching him early in the game.

"If anything, he used [the slider] less," Grady Sizemore said. "He's mixed a lot more curveballs and changeups in and probably relied less on his slider and more just on locating everything."

Of his 117 pitches, 29 were changeups, according to data from MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net. Indians hitters swung at 15 of them, and took six more for strikes.

"I could just tell early in the game there were some swings on some changeups," Verlander said. "I could tell guys saw the fastball out of my hand, which is the goal. That's what the changeup is for. There were a couple of ... fastballs in that guys either jumped back or swung underneath.

"You really get a feel for how guys are seeing and reacting to your pitches when you're out there. It's kind of hard to put it into words, but it was more of a feel."

By contrast, Verlander threw 29 curveballs and drew just two swings. Eighteen of those were called strikes. By the later innings, backstop Alex Avila said, it almost felt as though they were playing catch.

"When it's working like that, there's not much you can do with it as a hitter," Avila said. "Today was, I thought, the best it's been. It showed on how much we used it today, because it was probably one of his best pitches today.

"He throws his curveball up there at 80. Normally, when a pitcher throws his breaking ball at 80, it's more like a slider. It doesn't break that much. It's not that big. So it's definitely tough to hit, especially when he can come with a fastball at 98."

To opponents, especially the Indians, that's what makes Verlander so tough.

Sizemore had as good a look as anyone at the mix. He struck out all four times he stepped to the plate, each time on an offspeed pitch. He took a curveball for a called third strike to lead off the game, swung and missed at a changeup to end the third, took another curve on the outside corner to end the sixth, and swung and missed on another changeup in the ninth.

"What he's done different is just learn to pitch, learn to use it," Sizemore said. "Instead of going out there and throwing strikes, he's locating, he's keeping hitters off-balance, he's just making his pitches. It's not that his stuff is different. It's just that he's learned how to pitch and be that effective guy."

That effectiveness he's showing in the mix, which is getting tougher and tougher to hit. It's why Avila believes another no-hitter is in his future.

"He's got the stuff," Avila said. "He's got the preparation that goes into his starts. It's all there. I don't think it's a coincidence that he's been close so many times this year."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.

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