DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers are almost certainly going to be playing in October. Whether Justin Verlander decides to reclaim his status as staff ace by then remains to be seen.
The right-hander continued his up-and-down season Tuesday night, allowing five runs -- three earned -- in five innings as Detroit lost a rain-shortened game, 6-3 to the Oakland Athletics.
Verlander (12-10) needed 44 pitches just to get out of the first inning, and couldn't hold a 3-2 lead on a rainy night.
"Tonight proved again that it really doesn't matter how you feel when you are warming up," he said. "I felt great in the bullpen, and then was out of sync in the game, and it cost us a win."
Verlander is 8-8 in his last 21 starts with a 4.49 ERA, hardly the numbers the Tigers expect from their ace. At this point, with the Tigers still holding a comfortable lead in the AL Central, he's hoping the next month will give him a chance to figure things out.
"My deadline right now is the playoffs," he said.
Oakland pushed across two runs before Verlander recorded an out. Coco Crisp had a leadoff walk and Josh Donaldson singled. The runners moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Jed Lowrie's bloop double to right.
"Even in that inning, there were times that I felt like I had really good stuff, but I couldn't control it," he said. "I'd get in a rhythm for a couple pitches, and then get out of sync again."
Seth Smith had a two-out walk before Verlander finally got out of the inning when Alberto Callaspo flied out. The 44 pitches for Verlander were the most he had ever thrown in an inning.
"When you've got almost 50 pitches in the first inning and you are Justin Verlander, you're obviously not right," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think that's fair to say. I don't know what else to tell you. In my opinion, he's a great pitcher with great stuff who is having a freak year. It's puzzling. We can talk about it until the cows come home, and I still won't know what to tell you."
Tommy Milone (10-9) struggled as badly as Verlander in the first inning, but rallied to pitch one of the shortest complete games of his life. He finished five innings and was waiting for the sixth when the game ended early due to heavy rain.
"I've had some five-inning complete games in the minors, but I've never had one in the majors," Milone said. "That was a nice break."
Milone gave up three runs in the 34-pitch first, then held the Tigers scoreless until the weather ended play.
"I don't exactly know what changed, but something worked," he said. "I couldn't get comfortable in the first inning, especially from the stretch, but once I got back into the windup in the second, I was able to go after guys."
The game was tied before Milone got an out. With a steady rain beginning to fall, Detroit's first four batters reached. Prince Fielder had a two-run single, and Miguel Cabrera came home when Omar Infante's routine grounder to second went under Callaspo's glove for an error.
Verlander ran into more trouble when Moss walked with two out in the third and hustled around to score on Yoenis Cespedes' tying double down the left-field line on an 0-2 pitch.
The Athletics struck again with two out in the fifth when Moss hit a drive to center for his 22nd homer.
"That was probably the hardest rain I've ever pitched in," Verlander said. "I thought I could grip a changeup, but it came out flat and he crushed it."
Bruce Rondon replaced Verlander in the sixth, and Seth Smith hit his second pitch over the scoreboard in right-center for a 6-3 lead. The next three batters reached on two singles and a walk, but then the rain became too heavy for play to continue. The downpour did stop briefly, allowing the grounds crew to work on the field, but the window closed much too quickly for play to resume.
"That worked out really well for us, because we didn't have to use the bullpen," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "We did a great job against Verlander -- we were patient and we were able to really boost his pitch count. We only got the two runs in the first, but we made him throw 40-some pitches, and that's probably why we were able to add on in the later innings."
Rondon had been checked by trainer Kevin Rand earlier in the inning, and appeared to be favoring his right leg as he came off the field.
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