It was a back-and-forth conversation.
And of all the conversations Justin Verlander had with trainers, coaches and teammates during his two-plus months on the disabled list with a right triceps strain, the litmus test came in the middle of the fifth inning on this afternoon.
“It was more of a discussion than anything,” Verlander said.
After five solid innings and a laborious last frame, the veteran right-hander convened with manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones in the Tigers’ dugout.
At 87 pitches — well short of his 100-pitch limit in his season debut — could he have gone another inning?
“All those conversations with our staff, our coaches, doctors,” he said, “I don’t think it was the right move yet.”
Verlander did what was asked of him against the Indians. He gave the team a chance to win. But after five solid innings, the Tigers’ bullpen blew that win the very next inning in a 5-4 loss at Comerica Park.
Verlander threw five innings. He allowed two runs on three hits. He walked two and struck out two.
“Overall, I felt pretty good,” he said.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Ausmus said.
But with a trio of Indians lefties on the horizon, Ausmus opted for Hardy, the Tigers’ best left-handed reliever this season, and after allowing a lead-off single to Michael Brantley and a triple to David Murphy, their lead was gone.
And after Hardy was relieved by Alex Wilson,Gomes’ sacrifice fly to leftfield put the Tigers behind for good.
The Indians added an insurance run in the eighth inning, J.D. Martinez pulled the Tigers back within a run on a solo home run the next half inning but with two on and one out in their final at-bats, Martinez grounded into a game-ending double play.
But the loss was a footnote to the feature story of the day: Verlander’s return.
He was solid through five innings, displaying a mid-90 m.p.h. fastball.
He induced five swings-and-misses and recorded a first-pitch strike on 11 of 20 batters faced.
“I thought he was strong, slightly tired at the end but nothing concerning,” Ausmus said.
Verlander danced out of damage in the fifth inning, when he loaded the bases with one out, allowing one run but stranding two more by retiring longtime nemesis Carlos Santana on a line drive to rightfield.
“That last inning when I tried to step on the gas a little bit, I fell out of rhythm a little bit and walked a couple of guys,” Verlander said. “That’s kind of more effort than I’ve had to put in yet so it kind of makes sense why the rhythm wasn’t there yet.”
His only blemish on the day was a home run allowed to Santana in the fourth inning.
But in the fifth inning, he faced his toughest test since last season.
“I just kind of exerted more energy than I had yet,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was completely tired but I could tell I was putting more into it than I had at any point yet this far.”
And so, on this day, for maybe the first time in his 10-year career, Verlander was OK with surrendering the seams.
“We thought about it but erred on the side of caution,” Ausmus said.
More than two months of watching his teammates from the sidelines was more than enough to convince him.
“I think moving forward, a couple starts down the road, it’s a no-brainer,” Verlander said. “But right now, I think it was a smart move.”
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander delivers against the Indians during the first inning of the Tigers’ 5-4 loss Saturday at Comerica Park.Tigers’ Lobstein hits roadblock in recovery