Bats struggle for second straight game

Bats continue struggles in loss

MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Verlander said all week he felt he was close. As it turned out, he was. The Tigers' bats, however, weren't.

At five losses, Verlander is running out of things to say to describe the frustration. Four words to reporters summed up his end of Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Twins at the Metrodome.

"Pretty good," Verlander said. "Same result."

Manager Jim Leyland's word to sum up most of the Tigers at-bats was lethargic.

"It makes it tough on a pitcher when every inning you go out there, you feel like you have to shut them down," Leyland said.

Verlander, the young ace who won 35 games over his first two full seasons in the Major Leagues, moved into a tie for the American League lead in losses. Only Barry Zito has more among Major League pitchers, and he's now working out of the Giants' bullpen.

Yet to watch Verlander work through the first six innings Saturday would've made his record and his 6.28 ERA seem like it belonged to another pitcher. His fastball sat consistently in the mid-90s. His sharp-breaking curveball was as tight as it has been all season, and he changed speeds early and often.

"The swings these guys were taking, for the most part, the entire game, I thought it was pretty good," Verlander said.

His downfall came again in the late innings, but it was on one pitch. And it came to an old teammate.

Craig Monroe wasn't haunting Leyland so much as his current hitters were. On a night when Verlander lasted seven innings and the Twins were into their bullpen after three, Detroit managed just four singles through seven innings until Curtis Granderson's solo homer in the eighth off Pat Neshek ended a 14-inning scoring drought.

Starter Scott Baker continued his mastery of Tigers hitting, tossing 43 pitches over three innings of one-hit ball, but a re-aggravation of his right groin injury knocked him out. Enter rookie Brian Bass, who earned his first Major League victory with four scoreless innings on three hits. He used 44 pitches in the process.

Not only did Bass not walk anyone, he didn't reach a three-ball count.

"We just didn't do anything offensively really, to be honest with you," Leyland said. "A little spark there late, but we just didn't do anything. We had a few games where we rolled and looked pretty good, and for whatever reason, mysteriously, we just got back into a funk. We have to be better offensively on a consistent basis."

"I know that things will turn around. There's no if. It's when."
-- Justin Verlander

At least Verlander seems to be out of his funk, though he couldn't shake a defeat.

Making just his second career start at the Metrodome, Verlander sent down Minnesota's first 10 hitters in order before back-to-back hits from Mike Lamb and Joe Mauer set up the game's first run. Mauer's ground-rule double put runners at second and third with one out. After an intentional walk to Justin Morneau, Verlander sawed off Michael Cuddyer's bat for a soft ground ball, but it was deep enough in the infield to allow Lamb to score.

Another set of back-to-back hits from Lamb and Mauer, now 8-for-18 against Verlander, set up another tally. Morneau, 7-for-15 off Verlander entering the at-bat, hit into a double play, but the escape was short-lived. Verlander fell behind on Cuddyer, who lined a 2-0 changeup into left for a 2-0 Twins lead.

"Back-to-back changeups to the righty there. Obviously, at the time, I thought it was right," Verlander said. "Looking back at it and talking with Skip a little bit, it probably wasn't."

That was the one mental mistake Verlander saw in retrospect. The Monroe home run after a leadoff walk to Delmon Young in the seventh was the right pitch, but the wrong execution.

"He hung a breaking ball to C-Mo, and he hit it out," Leyland said. "But overall, he pitched very well. He gave us an excellent chance to win, but our offense just sputtered again."

The Tigers have scored two runs or less in five of Verlander's last six starts. The difference in the previous games was that he gave up enough runs that it didn't matter.

This time, Verlander gave the Tigers a shot to eventually bring the potential tying run to the plate. After all the quick at-bats against Bass, Pat Neshek retired the first two batters of the eighth before Granderson battled him for 10 pitches, including four straight two-strike foul balls.

On a full-count offspeed pitch, Granderson pounced, sending a drive deep to right field.

"My first three pitches against him, I really didn't see that well," said Granderson, who faced him in college as conference foes. "After that, I just tried to battle."

Placido Polanco singled and Gary Sheffield walked after that, giving the Tigers two runners on base for the first time all night. But Jesse Crain entered to retire Magglio Ordonez, then Joe Nathan finished off the ninth for his 10th save.

It goes down as another Verlander loss, and almost a loss of words for him.

"I sound like a broken record right now," Verlander said, "but I have the utmost faith in myself and my team. I know that things will turn around. There's no if. It's when."

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.