By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Statistically speaking, Justin Verlander’s difficult 2013 season cannot compare to the rough year of 2008, when he recorded a 4.84 ERA, a 1.403 WHIP and lost 17 games. For Verlander, though, there is similarity in the struggle he went through back then and the one he is working through now.
“For me it does [compare],” Verlander said. “I feel like I’m just a better pitcher than I was in ’08 and I deal with it a lot better.”
Being older and wiser does not make the situation easier. He allowed six runs on 10 hits and walked three batters in Thursday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins, who are 17.5 games back and did not have a single batter hitting .280 or better.
Verlander pitched 65.2 innings over 11 starts between May and June, and his ERA was 4.93. He allowed 72 hits in that span, and opponents had a .348 on-base percentage against him. As the summer progressed, Verlander did too. In the nine starts through July and August before Thursday, Verlander had thrown 61.2 innings, allowed 56 hits and recorded an ERA of 3.26.
After a slew of five-inning starts, he was lasting longer in games, and he was looking more like himself, though hardly the super-dominant version of 2012, when he recorded a 2.64 ERA, and 2011, when his ERA was even better and he won the American League Cy Young and the AL MVP.
All that improvement, and then … a game like Thursday.
“Obviously I’ve been able to pitch a little bit better and I guess you can take some solace in that, but it’s frustrating because I know it’s in there,” Verlander said. “I know what’s in there, and it’s just trying to find it, and I haven’t quite been able to find it yet. There’s been streaks where I’ve been pretty good, streaks where I haven’t been good at all. It’s just about getting consistency.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that he was not concerned about Verlander, that the pitcher just did not have his stuff Thursday, and that his season overall has been good. Even though the longtime ace allowed six runs, Detroit still had a chance at the end of the game, down by just one run. Still, Verlander’s performance continues to aggravate him.
“It’s been quite the grind for me all year,” he said. “A real battle. But all in all, you look at the numbers and it could be a whole lot worse. I wouldn’t call it good; I’d call it frustrating, but when you’re able to go out there and give your team a chance to win, I guess that’s a positive you take away from it.”
Another positive has been the performance of the other starting pitchers – Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello. Between those four and Verlander, the Tigers’ starting staff leads Major League Baseball in innings pitched (798.2) and is fourth in both collective ERA (3.41) and batting average against (.246).
Verlander became the highest-paid pitcher in history in March, signing a seven-year, $180 million contract. Were Scherzer and Sanchez not stealing the spotlight, both with ERAs well under 3.00, Verlander would be taking much more heat.
“It definitely helps the way the four other starting pitchers are throwing the ball,” Verlander said. “The weight of the world’s not on my shoulders right now. I’m able to go out there in my bullpen days and really work on stuff, especially with the way Max and Anibal and Doug and Ricky are throwing the ball. It allows me to work on things I need to work on and hopefully be prepared for October.”