By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – In 2011 and 2012, all the positive adjectives in the book could be used to describe Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander – automatic, dominant, brilliant, untouchable.
This season might best be described as good but not great.
Even though his regular season ERA of 3.46 falls right in line with his season-by-season numbers outside the last two years, Verlander has not been satisfied. All year, he has classified it as a struggle, but he said it has more to do with the way baseball is rather than something specific that is wrong.
“You look at the back of Hall of Famers and bubble gum cards, there’s seasons that are down,” Verlander said. “It’s just kind of the way this game is. It was a grind for me all year. I could probably sit here and name 50 adjustments that I tried to make that didn’t work or did help. Who knows what helped along the way and what didn’t.”
With all the tweaks he had made throughout the year, possibilities for how to fix unruly pitches sometimes crowded into his mind on the mound. Now, though, all he thinks about is the execution of each pitch.
“I feel like my mechanics are where they need to be, and I need to execute,” Verlander said. “Just forget about all that and just make my pitch.”
Verlander has been flawless so far in the postseason through two starts. In Game 2 of the ALDS, he allowed four hits through seven scoreless innings and struck out 11. In the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS, Verlander pitched a two-hitter through eight innings and struck out 10.
“He looks like the Cy Young, the guy I hated facing,” Detroit right field Torii Hunter said. “The first part of the season, he was just trying to make adjustments. He made adjustments. Just to see him work, go in the bullpen and work on his craft and finding his arm angles, his arm slot, his off-speed, trying to get a feel of everything throughout the first few months. It was nice to see JV at work. That’s why he’s the MVP, Cy Young.
“He actually works hard,” Hunter added. “I don’t think people know that. They think he just shows up and pitches, but this guy works his butt off. His focus level is pretty impressive, and for him to pitch the last couple starts before the postseason, then come in the last two starts in the postseason, that shows that this guy, he’s fiery. He’s a bulldog. He’s a guy you want on the mound. I would definitely go to war with him.”
In both starts this October, Verlander has looked locked in on the mound. Hunter said Verlander keeps that laser focus in the dugout. He keeps his headphones in and does not talk to teammates.
“You don’t want to stare at him too long because he has this killer look,” Hunter said earnestly. “Killers have this look about him, in their eyes. I look in his eyes, it’s like, ‘Whoa! Can’t look at him in the eye!’ It’s pretty scary.
“So he stares at you with this killer look,” Hunter continued with a smile, “and that’s when you know he’s doing great things that day,”