Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander was battered on three days' rest in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, but he didn't believe the short rest was to blame.
According to ESPN's Bradford Doolittle, Verlander said:
"I didn't know what to expect, and I wasn't taking anything into it. Not expecting anything. I was expecting to be normal. The low-hanging fruit is to sit there and say this was short rest and that's the reason why. I don't think so. I felt good, body felt good physically. I just didn't execute the way I needed to.
"Really the slider was the worst it's been all year. I needed something to go our way, and when I made mistakes, they really capitalized on them with runners on base. It killed us."
He added: "Bad slider. Inconsistent control. I felt like the velocity was there, but the control wasn't and the slider wasn't. Mix that in with a good approach [from the Rays] in the first."
The Rays scored three runs off Verlander in the first inning and added another in the fourth on a Willy Adames solo home run. Tampa went on to win 4-1 and force a decisive Game 5 after previously trailing 2-0 in the series.
Verlander's final line was seven hits, three walks, five strikeouts and four earned runs over 3.2 innings, a far cry from his Game 1 performance, when he allowed just one hit and three walks with no runs while striking out eight over seven innings.
Tuesday marked the second time in Verlander's Hall of Fame career that he pitched on three days' rest, and Astros manager A.J. Hinch expressed a positive outlook: "In the postseason, you ask somebody to do something that's not normal, it's always a little nerve-wracking. But he felt great, and he made a lot of really good pitches and got a lot of swings and misses."
While few expected Houston to get pushed to five games, the Astros have the luxury of falling back on Game 5 starter Gerrit Cole, who hasn't been saddled with a loss since May 22. He went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 326 strikeouts over 212.1 innings during the regular season, which perhaps makes him the American League Cy Young favorite.
He allowed four hits, one walk and no runs with 15 strikeouts in 7.2 innings during Houston's Game 2 win, and if he can turn in a similar performance, the Astros will likely be heading to the American League Championship Series for the third consecutive year.