LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander grew up in Virginia watching Braves games on television, featuring the great Chipper Jones. Getting to face him in a bases-loaded, no-out jam might not have been something he aspired to, but it's something he nonetheless appreciated.
"There's always a little bit of fun in there," Verlander said. "He's going to be a Hall of Famer."
The same might be said of Verlander someday.
If there's one bright side to Verlander's first relatively rough outing of the spring, at least by his standards, it's that he got the feel for pitching in tight situations. That's how he tried to look at that situation.
The jam was a chance for him to tune up his fastball from his usual spot in the mid-90s up to the upper 90s.
"The one time with the bases loaded, I tried to go to another level," Verlander said. "That's the first time I've done that. Obviously, it wasn't quite right, but it was good that I had the opportunity to work on that. The velocity was getting up there. It was a little harder to control for me, but the more I do it, the better I'll get."
Verlander retired Jones on a 2-0 fastball at 95 mph, jamming him into a popup between first and second base. He didn't have the same result on his 1-0 fastball to Eric Hinske, who lined it to left field for a two-run single.
Verlander's final out of the inning might have been the most impressive, and it had nothing to do with velocity. With runners at the corners, Verlander sent down Lakeland native Matt Diaz swinging on three pitches, all of them different.
"Fastball, curveball, changeup," Verlander recited.