LAKELAND, Fla. -- There's that moment for a pitcher when he releases a pitch he knows is bad, watching as it heads towards the plate, hoping the batter doesn't hit it but knowing it's probably headed out if he does. This was kind of one of those moments for Justin Verlander, and yet it was so much worse.
He didn't have command for the vast majority of his 61 pitches to the Mets on Monday, including the last. It was a fastball in to Jordany Valdespin, who had homered on Verlander's third pitch the day, and Verlander he had gotten it a little too far in.
Verlander did not know that Valdespin was going to square up his body and stand directly facing him as he let the ball go.
"He took a hack at the first pitch. He already hit one bomb," Verlander said. "And then the next one, he just totally squared at me, and I'm like, 'Oh God, this isn't going to be good.' Right out of the hand, it's like, 'Oh, [crap], that is right at his ... '"
The ball hit Valdespin in his groin, sending him to the ground in agony, right as it hit 94 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun.
Not only had Verlander never done that before, he had never seen it. Nor had pitching coach Jeff Jones, who spent years working with wild pitchers at Triple-A Toledo before getting his shot in the big leagues.
Eventually, Valdespin was able to walk off the field, and manager Jim Leyland came out around the same time to pull Verlander. Once Ike Davis singled in two runs a couple batters later, Verlander had been charged with five runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three batters, walked two, hit two more, and reached at least four 3-0 counts.
Verlander is usually good for a rough start every spring. His agent, Verlander said, calls him the Farmers Almanac because it usually falls on schedule. But this start was bad even by those standards.
"My rhythm was off, and that kind of led to everything," Verlander said. "Fastball control was not good. Changeup was bad. Slider was bad. Breaking ball was all right, which is odd."