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Verlander avoids big hits, but not loss

Verlander avoids big hits, not loss

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DETROIT -- This game didn't leave Tigers manager Jim Leyland blindsided, flabbergasted or caught off guard.

Instead, after Justin Verlander's fourth consecutive defeat sent Detroit on its way to a 7-2 loss to Toronto on Monday night at Comerica Park, Leyland's term was "blah."

It didn't describe the effort. To Leyland, it described Verlander's arm.

"Tonight was self-explanatory," Leyland said. "This was just the blahs from [Verlander's] last outing -- 130 pitches. No doubt in my mind. It was kind of a dead-arm night for him, certainly related to the 130-pitch night in Chicago for him."

Verlander felt well enough to throw that many pitches on Wednesday against the White Sox, and with the bullpen spent from a 14-inning game the previous night, he pretty much had to go deep. Longer-term, he had tossed at least 110 pitches in his past three starts, and only CC Sabathia had thrown more pitches among Major Leaguers this season.

Monday's outing lasted just 78 pitches before Leyland made the move to go to the bullpen with one out in the fifth inning. Verlander's previous low pitch count this season was 97, and that was on Opening Day.

Leyland had seen enough early to know it wasn't happening on this night for his 25-year-old ace. Verlander had hitters in two-strike counts, but he didn't have enough to finish them off.

"I felt a little fatigued, but I don't want to make excuses," Verlander said. "I still have to go out there and pitch. I felt like I tried to create a little bit, and that's when my ball got up in the zone. Store that in the memory bank and know that if it's not there, just continue to go along, throw quality strikes and let those guys get themselves out instead of trying to create."

It was a blah night in what is becoming a blah season for Verlander. And that has certainly been befuddling for the Tigers.

Verlander (8-13) has now lost each of his past four starts, giving up 24 runs on 27 hits over 21 2/3 innings in the skid, including six runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings on Monday. He had a four-game losing streak earlier this year, but he had never given up more than 19 earned runs over a four-game stretch.

It wasn't a big home run that proved his downfall, as in his past few starts; John McDonald's fifth-inning double was the only extra-base tally off of him. Instead, the Jays just didn't let up on their barrage of singles and sacrifice flies.

Verlander said he felt fine in his between-starts work and felt good in a nine-pitch first inning that included two strikeouts. Once Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum stranded two runners in the bottom of the inning, however, Verlander felt the difference. Leyland saw it. When his fastball, normally in the mid-90s, was spotted around 93 mph, the Blue Jays waited for it.

"You could just tell watching him," Leyland said. "He wasn't finishing real good. The arm wasn't finishing, extending real good. He just didn't throw the ball very good tonight."

Leadoff runners troubled Verlander all evening. Three straight second-inning singles set up Rod Barajas' RBI hit and Adam Lind's sacrifice fly to open the scoring. Two innings later, an Alex Rios leadoff walk and back-to-back singles from Vernon Wells and Matt Stairs fueled another two-run rally, after Brandon Inge's solo homer had halved Detroit's deficit.

Once Rios singled in McDonald in the fifth, that was enough.

"Justin Verlander's fine," Leyland said. "He paid the price for a 130-pitch outing."

The way Marcum (7-5) pitched, the Tigers paid their part of the tab, too. Inge hit his 10th home run of the year, and Miguel Cabrera launched a 425-foot solo homer into the shrubbery beyond center field leading off the sixth. But that was it for the Tigers; they went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

With that, Detroit fell to 9-16 in games Verlander starts. Add in the Tigers' 11-13 record in games started by Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson, and they're 11 games under .500 with their veteran hurlers on the hill -- a major reason Detroit is looking at an uphill battle for the playoffs.

"Even if you are looking at it one game at a time, you still know that there's a window of opportunity," Inge said. "And every game you lose, it closes a little more. That's just a fact of the matter."

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

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