Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
One scout stressed that the Yankees must lay off Justin Verlander's high fastball early in the count. But the other recommended more aggression in at-bats: "Attack, attack, attack," the scout said.
The differing replies illustrate just how difficult a challenge the visiting Yankees face Friday night when Verlander starts for Houston in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series, which the Yanks lead, 3-2.
There are no easy answers for Verlander.
Of course, that's long been apparent to the baseball world, no more so than when Verlander threw a dominant complete game in the Astros' 2-1 victory in Game 2. Verlander struck out 13 and allowed only five hits. He has a 2.04 ERA in three postseason outings so far and is holding opponents to a .200 average.
He was remarkably precise in Game 2, throwing 93 of his 124 pitches for strikes (75 percent). And his stuff lasted, too -- the final fastball he threw, his second-to-last pitch, was 96.7 miles per hour. Greg Bird made the final out of the game when he grounded out on an 87.6 mph slider.
Verlander threw his four-seam fastball 57.3% of the time in Game 2, according to mlb.com's Statcast. His fastball was also the first pitch he threw to 26 of the 32 batters he faced, so it's obviously a key to how he attacks hitters.
That's why the first scout says, "Shut down the top of the strike zone," against him. "He's a high fastball-style pitcher. Force him not to work upstairs with early takes there.
"(He) really does a great job of establishing the fastball early, so it's important not to chase the fastball up early."
But if Verlander keeps that pitch in the strike zone -- and it was a strike 77.5 percent of the time in Game 2 -- he can set up the Yankees to face his wicked slider if they keep taking. In Game 2, according to the scouting and information service Inside Edge, Verlander got nine of his 13 strikeouts with his slider. It's the most he's ever gotten using the slider as the finisher.
And that's why the second scout said, "I would attack Verlander early in the count, because if he gets two strikes, his breaking stuff can be devastating.
"The way he threw last time out, it (his breaking stuff) was real good. Quick and sharp. It's amazing how he maintained his stuff the entire outing."
As if the challenge of his raw stuff weren't enough, Verlander also brings shelves full of awards, plenty of swagger and a postseason pedigree to the start. And this kind of situation is why he came to Houston, after all, accepting a trade from the Tigers, the only team he'd ever known.
"I know it's a huge game," Verlander said Thursday at a press conference in Houston. "There's no shying away from that fact.
"So my game plan is to go out there, and as the cliché goes, give it everything I've got. I'm just going to focus on trying to execute my pitches, trying not to let the moment get to me, just focus on the task at hand."
In four starts in postseason elimination games, Verlander is 3-1 with a 1.49 ERA. Not bad. Overall in October, he's 10-5 with a 3.18 ERA in 19 outings (18 starts), including 3-0 against the Yankees.
Verlander acknowledged that he might tweak things this time, even though what he did worked so beautifully in Game 2. He knows the Yankees roughed up Yankee-killer Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 after Keuchel shredded them in Game 1.
"I'm sure there will be some adjustments, yes," Verlander said. "If you're going at the same team twice in a row, you don't want them to see the exact same guy or same game plan, so there will probably be some adjustments on my end.
"But also I have to trust my instincts and what my eyes tell me more than anything. Having that experience in my career and having played this game for so long, you can go out there with all the scripted game plan that you want, but sometimes what my eyes tell me, what my instincts tell me, is totally different.
"So that's what I rely on mostly."
The Houston bullpen has struggled in the series, recording a 6.17 ERA, so the Astros may ask Verlander to go deep in the game.
It'd be the right move, said the second scout. "End of the line if they don't win," he said. "He's going to the limit."
It might save the Astros' season, or at least move it into a winner-take-all Game 7.