By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Justin Verlander set the bar high. In 2011, he became just the 10th player ever to win both the Cy Young and MVP. In 2012 he won 21 games and finished with a 2.64 ERA.
With such a successful record, even being consistently pretty darn good – rather than outstanding – is often regarded as a sign of trouble.
“When you’re one of the faces of the game, which he is, and a great pitcher, people, they talk more about those guys than they do the fifth starter, most likely,” Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I don’t know if that’s wrong or right, but that’s just the way this game is. When you’ve got a star pitcher and he doesn’t have a good outing, it’s a good conversation piece for people.”
Verlander struggled Tuesday. He allowed two home runs and gave up four walks through five innings in a 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles. It was just the third time in 15 starts Verlander had surrendered more than two walks. It was the second game this month Verlander got lit up for a pair of home runs.
In five of his 15 starts so far, Verlander has only lasted five innings or fewer. Through his first 15 starts last season, he had lasted eight innings or more in seven games, and he never once went fewer than six.
“I always pride myself on going deep into games, and I want to,” Verlander said. “It’s just this year it seems like either I haven’t been executing or there’ve been a lot of teams that have battled me really tough. But you know you’ve just got to turn the page. You can’t think about the past. You can only look forward. Every time I go out there I’m trying to go nine innings. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m fully confident that it will.”
Leyland has confidence too, saying that in the pitcher’s recent start against Kansas City he looked like “vintage Verlander,” pitching seven scoreless innings. Leyland knows the standard for his ace is high, but he thinks Verlander can meet it.
“He’s certainly capable of that yet,” Leyland said. “Last night it was just a matter of not commanding his fastball, which was quite a surprise. He had to tune it up a little earlier than he probably would have liked to because he got into a little bit of a jam there and he had to tune it up, but no, I’m not concerned about that.
“I do think that the bar is set awful high,” Leyland added, “and there’s probably some pressure that goes along with that, but that’s what we do, and that’s what we accept, and we move on, so we’ll just get him ready for his next one.”
Torii Hunter, who played against Verlander for many years before joining the Tigers this season, said the pitcher looks as good as ever. He also said he can relate to the unrealistic expectations of players who establish themselves as stars.
“Verlander’s such a great pitcher, man, any kind of struggle is like a panic,” Hunter said. “This is baseball. This is a hard game. You’re going to fail. They pay you to fail, and Verlander’s going to have his share, and when he does, just stick with him. He knows what he’s doing.”