By Ashley Dunkak
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is out of answers for questions about ace – former ace? – Justin Verlander.
The hurler took 44 pitches, the most he has ever thrown in one inning in his career, to get out of the first inning against the Oakland A’s. The performance Monday got Leyland to admit that there is a level of concern about Verlander.
“Sure,” Leyland said. “I’ll leave it at that. Let’s not go any further. He’s pitched some real good games where we didn’t score for him. He’s just had kind of a freak year, certainly hasn’t had a bad year up to this point. Hasn’t had the type of year that we’re used to, but certainly hasn’t had a bad year.”
To describe Verlander’s command Tuesday, though, bad might have been the kindest adjective to use. In fact, Leyland said it looked to him like Verlander was all over the place.
“You all certainly have a pretty good idea that he didn’t have very good command. When you’ve got almost 50 pitches in an inning, the first inning, Justin Verlander? I mean, you’re obviously not right,” Leyland said. “I think that’s fair to say. Just somehow we’ve got to figure out how to get it going.”
Verlander has struggled throughout the season to figure out what the problem is. He said he thinks the problem is mechanical, and while he has made some adjustments that he says have helped, clearly the issues have not been resolved. Verlander said he does not feel fatigued, though, and Leyland said that the pitcher’s physical condition is completely normal.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Leyland said. “People are going to look for all that kind of stuff. I’m not getting into that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with him physically. Nothing.”
Of course, no question about his health means questions about every other aspect of Verlander, and the manager is to the point of recycling answers for lack of new ones.
“You guys can talk ‘til the cows come home, and I’m trying to really be nice about this, but I really don’t know what to tell you,” Leyland said. “I swear to God I don’t. It’s puzzling.”
Verlander has a 3.73 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP this season. The ERA is only slighter higher than his 2006 and 2007 numbers and is not even too far off from those of his 2009 and 2010 seasons. What has been so befuddling is the vast difference between this season and his last two seasons, when fans would come to Comerica Park expecting to see a near no-hitter.
The pitcher mentioned early in July that he had looked at old video and changed his shoulder angle, which had been helpful, but he cautioned Wednesday that any tweaks previously mentioned were not necessarily solutions.
“I told you guys to be wary of that,” Verlander said. “I didn’t want you to say, ‘He’s found it, he’s back.’ No. It was one start, two starts, and that’s not a big enough sample size. Is it still something that I think will help me? Yeah. But it wasn’t like the – it’s not that simple, where it’s like boom, got it, done.”
For Verlander, the deadline to get right is the playoffs. He has been frustrated about his lack of command after many games this season, but other factors have aggravated him as well.
“When things are going your way, they’re going your way. When they’re not, they’re not,” Verlander said. “Look at the double that scored the first two runs in the first inning tonight. I mean are you kidding me? And that’s the second one of those I’ve had in three starts in a big situation where a guy just somehow put the bat on the ball that he has no business hitting and bloops it right down the line. Not that he has no business hitting, these are professional hitters, but [they’ve hit them when] they don’t put good swings on them.”
Verlander gave up another home run Tuesday, the fourth game in a row he has allowed one – or more – to leave the park.
“Unfortunately, that change-up didn’t do anything,” Verlander said. “I was drenched. Literally my fingers were like I got out of the bathtub. They were that wet. Like you know when you get out of the bathtub they were all pruny? My fingers were pruny. I’ve never had anything like that.”
Leyland does not know what is wrong. Verlander does not know what is wrong, either, but he is not giving up.
“Obviously this year has been one of those years that’s not great,” Verlander said. “Not up to my standards, not up to anybody’s standards – well, up to some people’s standards – but I’m still fighting. I’m still battling. I’m still here.”