OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Jim Leyland constantly reminds himself and everybody else that Justin Verlander is only 24 and in his second full major league season.
Leyland, the Tigers’ old-school skipper, hardly expects Verlander to be perfect or carry the team at this stage in his career.
Yet the reigning AL Rookie of the Year sure did so Saturday.
“I thought today was some of the best stuff he’s had all year,” Leyland said. “His fastball was electric today, as good as I’ve seen it. He’s a rare dude, because it’s hard to find guys 24 years old with an electric fastball, electric curve and above-average changeup.”
Leyland will give Verlander an extra day before his next start after the right-hander threw a season-high 128 pitches.
Detroit tagged Haren (14-6) for 11 hits, the most he’s given up this year, and Verlander’s big day helped the Tigers hold ground in their chase for the AL Central and wild card.
Granderson went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Raburn each doubled in runs for the Tigers, who had lost three of four and started the day a season-high 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Indians. They stayed three games behind the wild card-leading New York Yankees, who beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 9-6.
A few minor tweaks to his mechanics have made a difference for Verlander in recent weeks on the heels of a four-start winless stretch spanning from late July through Aug. 6. Verlander, who threw a no-hitter June 12 against Milwaukee, worked closely with pitching coach Chuck Hernandez.
“I don’t want to put added pressure on myself or Jeremy (Bonderman),” said Verlander, who struck out 10 or more batters for the third time this year. “But at the same time, I don’t mind being the guy the team goes to to get a stop or a win. I’ve been on a mission to get myself right and back where I need to be.”
Verlander (15-5) and Haren, a pair of aces and first-time All-Stars who began the day with identical records, both had won in their home stadium in their previous matchups this season.
“I understand better than anybody in that clubhouse that he’s a young kid,” Leyland said. “I’m not critical of any of my players. My job is to help him get better.
“Even though I know he’s going to go through some of those times, I’m not going to overlook it. He’s a tremendous talent, one of the most tremendous talents in the big leagues. That doesn’t mean at 24 years old you’ve got all the answers.”
Haren began the day with an AL-best 2.72 ERA while Verlander was tied for fourth in the league with a .234 batting average against.
Verlander, who allowed a run and six hits in 6 2-3 innings, struck out the side in the fifth, ending the inning by fanning Jack Cust for the third time. After two strikeouts to start the seventh, Verlander allowed a single to Kurt Suzuki, another to Shannon Stewart and walk to Nick Swisher to load the bases for Cust.
Bobby Seay relieved and got Cust on a called third strike, his fourth K.
“(Verlander) made his pitches on Jack, that’s for sure,” A’s manager Bob Geren said.
Mike Piazza homered leading off the fourth for the A’s a day after doubling to start the game-winning rally in the 10th inning of Friday’s 5-4 victory. It was the sixth homer of the year for Piazza, in his first season in the American League as a designated hitter.
Granderson connected for his 19th home run leading off the third, the sixth homer allowed by Haren over his last three starts. He gave up only five longballs over his previous 10 outings. Granderson doubled and scored in the seventh and added a run-scoring single in the eighth.
After Raburn’s RBI double in the third, Haren retired 11 of the next 12 Detroit batters before Sean Casey’s two-out double in the sixth. Haren allowed three straight hits to start the seventh, including Placido Polanco’s RBI single and Granderson’s double.
Haren gave up five runs in six innings.
“Frustrating,” he said. “When you face a team several times you’ve got to figure a way to get them out and I didn’t do a very good job of that. … I put us in a hole early, then I pitched well enough to get us back in the game. Then I let it unravel at the end.”
Haren allowed hits to three of the Tigers’ first four batters, including back-to-back singles to start the game by Granderson and Polanco. After Raburn grounded into a double play, Ordonez doubled in a run for a 1-0 lead.
Carlos Guillen added a sacrifice fly for Detroit in the seventh.
Haren gave up double digits in hits for the first time in ’07. … Tigers No. 9 hitter, Timo Perez, had three hits, scored two runs and stole his first base. … The A’s re-signed free agent C Adam Melhuse. To make roster room for Melhuse, the A’s transferred 3B Eric Chavez to the 60-day DL. They also called up LHP Dallas Braden to start the series finale Sunday. … The Tigers recalled RHPs Yorman Bazardo and Jose Capellan and INFs Mike Hessman and Omar Infante from Triple-A Toledo.