A guide on how to beat Justin Verlander

Rob Bradford
October 15, 2013 - 8:13 am

DETROIT -- The Red Sox know there is hope. They have June 23 to prove it. It was on that day at Comerica Park the Sox made Justin Verlander throw 112 pitches over five innings, getting to the starter for four runs on seven hits and four walks. '€œHe'€™s tough,'€ said Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. '€œAt the same time, he'€™s a game over .500. He'€™s been beat. We just have to grind it out, like we'€™ve been doing.'€ So, what did the Red Sox do to beat Verlander then, and what do they need to execute in order to get the better of the righty Tuesday? The first thing that should be understood is that Verlander is a different pitcher today than he was back in June, and numbers suggest as much. Understand this: He had more swings and misses on his fastball (18) in his most recent start against Oakland than he did in the combined five appearances leading up to that mid-season meeting with the Red Sox (16). '€œNow he'€™s like the old Verlander,'€ said one American League hitting coach. '€œBefore he looked like he was reaching back for [velocity] that wasn'€™t there. The Red Sox can take heart that in that June 23 game, Verlander was throwing hard. He maxed out at 98 mph, with a fastball that averaged just over 94 mph. They were numbers consistent with the start against the A'€™s. But what he was able to do against Oakland was command his other pitches and get the A'€™s in a torturous guessing game. Thirty-one of Verlander'€™s 64 pitches out of the strike zone ended up being strikes, including Oakland swinging and missing seven times at fastballs out of the zone. It'€™s a big reason while in Verlander'€™s last five starts hitters are managing just a .136 average against the ace'€™s heater. '€œYou can'€™t guess with them,'€ said the hitting coach. '€œAnd if you guess with them you better stay with a plan, not constantly changing it in the middle of the at-bat. You'€™ll always be playing catch-up.'€ So, what do you do? Much like they did against Tampa Bay'€™s Matt Moore, the Red Sox have to make sure Verlander can throw his offspeed stuff for strikes while zoning up his fastball On June 23, Verlander threw 23 changeups and the Red Sox chased just three of them. It allowed them to pick on the fastball, which induced just three swings and misses and four swings out of the zone. Perhaps the best two examples of taking the proper approach in that June 23 game were Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia. Napoli saw a total of 28 pitches for the game. But it was Pedroia who made the biggest adjustment, having come into the contest 0-for-16 against Verlander. Pedroia saw 13 pitches from the Detroit starter, 10 of which were strikes. But the second baseman zeroed in on the proper offerings, not biting when Verlander tried to elevate to the level the No. 3 hitter often likes to venture into. The result? A hit and a walk. But maybe the biggest key when it comes to trying to figure out to approach Verlander is simply not getting caught up in trying to pull the ball. '€œYou have to stay on the fastball, stay in the middle of the field and stay the other way because his changeup is devastating right now,'€ the hitting coach said. '€œIf you have a pull mentality on the fastball, you'€™ll get eaten alive with the changeup '€œYou cannot think pull. That'€™s what happened with [Max] Scherzer. If you can have the mindset to drive the fastball to the opposite gap then that keeps you on the changeup just a hair longer. Any kind of pull mentality is devastating.'€ It is what had gotten Pedroia in trouble prior to the June meeting, and also suggested why hitters like David Ortiz (10-for-27, .370) and Kansas City's Billy Butler (30-for-68, .441) -- who aren'€™t afraid to use the whole field when trying to drive the ball -- have so much success against Verlander. '€œAs a hitter, the harder they throw, the harder you swing, and that'€™s giving into him,'€ Gomes said. '€œWhen he throws hard and you swing hard, that'€™s just taking you off his offspeed. '€œIt'€™s easier said than done, but he can throw strikes when he wants and balls when he wants. When he sees guys are up there being aggressive, he can throw all three of his pitches for balls, on purpose. At the same time, he can throw all three of his pitches for strikes.'€ Easier said than done, indeed.