Justin Verlander pitches for the Mets and won two World Series titles with the Houston Astros, but he will always be a part of Detroit. It was there that he started his great career, won his first of three Cy Young Awards and his one Most Valuable Player Award and fired two of his three career no-hitters.
So when three Tigers pitchers combined to throw the ninth no-hitter in club history on Saturday — and the 20th combined no-hitter in major league history — Verlander, who was in San Diego for a series against the Padres, attentive. Like the rest of his family: Their group chat quickly exploded with talk of the first no-hitter thrown at Comerica Park in Detroit since Verlander handcuffed Milwaukee in 2007 and the old highlights shown during the broadcast.
“My wife informed me how young she was when it happened, and then someone else told me how young I looked,” Verlander said, smiling and good-naturedly muttering an exclamation that emphasized how long ago it was.
Verlander doesn’t know Matt Manning, the Tigers right-hander who cut through the Blue Jays in the first six and two-thirds innings of Detroit’s 2-0 victory Saturday, nor is he familiar with the relievers who took over from there: Jason Foley (one and a third inning) and Alex Lange (one inning). But more than any other active player, he knows that ballpark, that city and that team’s history.
“Forever, when certain things happen, I think my name will always come up,” Verlander said. “As long as I played there and some of the cool things I was able to accomplish there, when you’re tied to an organization like that, obviously there’s a part of you that wishes them well, no doubt.”
However, the Blue Jays may not wish Verlander or the Tigers well. Toronto was the opponent when Verlander threw the second no-hitter of his career, on May 7, 2011, and it was the Blue Jays, once again, that he no-hitted as a member of the Houston Astros on September 1, 2019.
While Verlander is one of only six pitchers to throw three or more no-hitters — Nolan Ryan (seven), Sandy Koufax (four) and Larry Corcoran, Bob Feller and Cy Young (three each) are the others — he is also became well acquainted with combined no-hitters. He was in the dugout for two of them last year: Houston’s sweep of the Yankees in June (Cristian Javier, Hector Neris and Ryan Pressly) and the Astros’ memorable tag-team no-hitter against Philadelphia in Game 4 of the World Series ( Javier, Bryan Abreu , Rafael Montero and Pressly).
In one celebratory way, Verlander said, combined no-hitters make for a better party because it’s more team-oriented when multiple pitchers are involved. The World Series no-hitter, Verlander said, was “cool, unbelievable.”
But at the same time, he pointed out, “not to take anything away from the combined no-hitter, but you can even see in the media, just the way it’s covered,” that the performance is different. And with the way the game is changing, he noted, combined no-hitters will become the norm rather than the exception. Yes, 12 out of the 20 have taken place since 2000, and nine of them have come since 2018.
While analytics have played an important role in the change, with some teams adhering to the principle of not allowing a starting pitcher to face an opposing batting order for the third time in a game, it also calls into question whether baseball is doing a disservice to some by not developing starting pitchers properly.
“I hope Major League Baseball doesn’t wait too long to fix it because you get what you asked for, right?” Verlander said. “Teams are looking for players who throw 100 miles an hour and have a really good off-speed pitch. So instead of developing good pitching, as a younger player you’re obsessed with throwing the ball hard and spinning it.
“So you break down instead of waiting for you to naturally develop. So you get what you ask for.”
Verlander, 40, said he and teammate Max Scherzer, 38, who has thrown two career no-hitters, sometimes discuss this topic. Between them, Verlander and Scherzer have played in 939 games, thrown 38 complete games, worked 5,997⅔ innings and earned 456 wins.
In a separate conversation Friday, Scherzer said, “I can’t stand what I’m seeing from young pitchers. I don’t feel like anybody’s developing arms anymore. All arms break.”
In Manning’s case, the timing of his masterpiece was a factor beyond modern strategy. A first-round pick in the 2016 draft, Manning, 25, made just his fifth start of the season after breaking a bone in his right foot in April. A sore shoulder limited him to 12 starts in 2022.
“He worked a ton,” Tigers Manager AJ Hinch told reporters after Saturday’s game. “I almost took him out after the fifth and after the sixth. I sent him out for the seventh, but once a runner gets on, we have to worry about winning the game.”
Overall, the three Tigers pitchers combined for 116 pitches and nine strikeouts. Manning walked three batters and hit one, while Foley and Lange were perfect in their shorter stints.
It was an accomplishment for all three pitchers, no doubt, but one that came without the same level of distinction as a pitcher having finished what he started. Verlander believes MLB needs to find a way to encourage teams to return to developing top-tier starting pitchers who can pitch deep into games. It could help create lasting memories for the fans who come out to watch, instead of just having them watch a series of hard throws.
“I hope we don’t look up years from now and see a whole league of just guys whose names nobody knows,” Verlander said.