By: Jamie Samuelsen

Justin Verlander remains the most reliable Tigers starter. The only difference is what we’re referring to when it comes to the word – ‘reliable’.

It used to be that you could count on Verlander to march out there once every five games. He’d pitch into the seventh or the eighth inning. And he’d give the Tigers a very good chance to win the game as long as they cobbled together a few runs. From a media standpoint, it was almost dull. Unless he flirted with a no-hitter, Verlander’s starts were predictable, mundane and very, very good.

But that’s changed. Now it seems like whenever Verlander starts, we can count on hours of good radio afterwards on 97.1 The Ticket as we try to figure out why one of the most talented pitchers in baseball is performing as no better than the Tigers #3 or #4 starter.

Such was the case Thursday as Verlander was roughed up again – allowing five earned runs and eight hits in just 5 2/3rds innings pitched. Verlander is 6-6 with a 5.22 ERA over his last 15 starts. And he’s 1-3 with a 6.31 ERA in his last four outings (which includes that seven-inning no-hit bid against the Rangers). His ERA for the year has ballooned to 3.99 and opposing batters are hitting .266 against him.

In other words – this is not the Justin Verlander that we’ve grown accustomed to. And the theories as to why he’s not pitching as well as expected are coming fast and furious.

For the record, this has nothing to do with women. Verlander was the MVP and the Cy Young Award winner prior to any alleged relationships with any supermodels. Something tells me he can pitch just fine without those alleged relationships either.

I also don’t think he’s resting on his laurels after signing a massive 180-million dollar contract before the season started. Sure, Verlander wants the money. And he loves the notoriety that comes with being one of the highest paid players in baseball. But he also knows that nobody gets to Cooperstown by signing a big contract. Those invites go out to the greatest, not the wealthiest. So I’d imagine that his work ethic is doing just fine.

I think the issue with Verlander is as simple as this. Justin Verlander is so consumed with being Justin Verlander, Superstar that he’s lost sight of what made him Justin Verlander, Pitcher. His velocity was down in the early part of the season, so he tried to crank it up. He heard the criticism of how he over-pitched in the All-Star Game last summer and in Game 1 of the World Series, so he tried to be craftier instead of overpowering.

Verlander has a healthy ego. There’s little question about that. When a man admits publicly that he thinks he should pitch a no-hitter every single game, that’s a pretty strong sign. The question is this – does his ego prevent him from taking a hard look at himself and figuring out what the issues may be with pitching coach Jeff Jones. Verlander has cited Jones a lot in recent weeks and mentioned that together they’ve found some problems with his delivery. He also said that Thursday’s loss to Chicago was encouraging despite the results. Tiger fans will be excused if they don’t rush to agree just yet.

As much as people want to worry, Verlander remains the Tigers most talented pitcher and a vital piece of the puzzle for 2013. Forget the ridiculous talk of sending him to Toledo or banishing him to the bullpen. Other than Max Scherzer, he still gives the Tigers the best chance to win every fifth day. If he were to go out next Wednesday against the Nationals and pitch eight innings of four-hit baseball, not a single one of you would be surprised. Nor should you be.

Verlander is struggling. There’s little doubt about that. But he will get it back. There’s even less doubt about that. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that fans should sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Verlander should be better and he needs to be better if this team has any designs on winning in October.

Just take solace in the fact that he’s not a fat cat, he’s not content and he’s not heartbroken. He just happens to be human. Some of the greatest pitchers in baseball history have lost their mojo at times during their career. Most all of them get it back. I fully expect Verlander to fall into that category.


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