By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Tigers starter Justin Verlander did not blame fans for booing him Monday night, when he left the mound after surrendering seven earned runs, the second straight start in which he has done so.
“Fans are frustrated, and so am I,” Verlander said. “That’s part of the game. They’ve cheered me plenty. They have the right to boo because they’re frustrated. I am too. If I was sitting in the stands, I’d probably boo myself today too, but I will be better, and they’ll cheer again.”
Verlander has given up five or more runs in six of his last seven outings. His ERA through 15 starts is a startlingly uncharacteristic 4.98. The longtime ace worked through a rough season in 2008, but he agreed without hesitation Monday that the recent struggles constitute as aggravating a stretch as he has experienced in his nine-year career.
“2008 was more kind of like up and down, up and down, good start, bad start, good start, bad start,” Verlander said. “This has been, start off the season pretty good, and then string of bad starts in a row, so maybe I’m just getting it all out of my system now and turn the page and turn the corner and never look back. That’s what I plan on doing.”
The results of Verlander’s recent performances hardly look encouraging, but Verlander maintains the faith nonetheless.
“I’ve always been somebody that no matter how bad things are going, I’m able to look at the positive side,” Verlander said. “I think you have to do that. You can’t get too down on yourself. You can’t completely lose confidence. That’s no way to pitch. It’s tough. It’s not easy sometimes. It’s not easy to stay confident, but I’m able to do so.”
New Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has also expressed belief that Verlander will find his way. He would not directly address an inquiry about the level of concern with Verlander, but his answer still seemed telling. Essentially, Ausmus pointed out Verlander is not going anywhere, so how he pitches is how he pitches, and Detroit will work with it because there are no other options.
“I mean, he’s going to be here all year,” Ausmus said. “He’s one of our pitchers. There’s really no reason to be concerned about. He’s going to pitch every fifth day. If we have an off day, we might push people back and give him an extra day, but he’s going to pitch. It’s simple.”
Later in the press conference, Ausmus made a remark that confirmed the idea that he may indeed lose some sleep over Verlander.
“I love when you guys ask if it’s a concern or worry,” Ausmus said with a smile. “As if I’d tell you.”
Adjusting for Age
Some believe the problems of Verlander, 31, stem from age. Ausmus, while not conceding that Verlander needs to adjust his approach to compensate for diminishing capabilities, seemed optimistic that Verlander could make such adjustments if he needed to do so.
“I do think all pitchers in general as they age, they adjust, and they adapt, or they come up with a new pitch, or they come up with a new approach,” Ausmus said. “They find something that works. And it’s funny because the last time Justin pitched against Kansas City, he pitched well in Kansas City and everyone was saying, ‘Well, even if he gets older and loses velocity, he’s got the pitches to get people out,’ and now he’s scuffling and everyone’s saying he’s done, so I don’t think he’s done.
“I think Justin Verlander will be just fine,” Ausmus added, “but I do think pitchers in general, as they age, their body changes and they have to make adjustments. He certainly has the repertoire to pitch well into his 30s. And I don’t know if this is any indication of any of that. But I do know he’s got the stuff, and he still has the arm to pitch for quite a while.”
The idea of adjusting his approach to compensate for age does not scare Verlander, but he does not believe such changes are needed yet. After addressing the topic seriously, the pitcher cracked a smile and brushed off the idea of any dramatic changes by suggesting his own.
“I’m going to go Luis Tiant, just totally revamp my mechanics, give a little praise to the gods before I throw home, also probably add a splitty and an eephus,” Verlander said. “My next start’s going to be a whole new me.”
Finding a Fix
In all seriousness, of course, Verlander does not believe a complete revamp is necessary – not by a long shot.
“I go back and look at a lot of my starts, and there’s not a lot of hard-hit balls, and so that kind of tells you that you’re stuff’s pretty good,” Verlander said. “It seems that when I’ve gotten in trouble, I haven’t been able to execute pitches. I need to do that better. I need to stop walking guys when I get in trouble. Leading up to the Omar [Infante] at bat, I walked [Nori] Aoki right before that. Need to do a better job not walking guys in situations and just adding fuel to the fire. Executing a little better.”
Verlander said he and pitching coach Jeff Jones will go over the video of his start and try to see what is sabotaging his execution. Verlander would be more than happy to stop messing with his delivery, but results have been elusive, so there is not too much of a choice.
“I want to stop tinkering, but when something’s not right, I guess you have to,” Verlander said. “I think there’s a reason all my stuff is up right now, and got to fix that. You shouldn’t feel forced to have to execute pitches. It should happen naturally. Especially just being down in the zone. You should be able to just do that, and it feels forced right now. That kind of has a snowball effect on the offspeed too, when you’re trying to force anything to get down. You’re probably a little under it, a little late, whatever it may be … If you’ve got to force yourself to be getting on top of it, you’re not going to be getting on top of your offspeed as well either.”
For the Tigers to live up to their World Series potential, Verlander has to be solid – not necessarily “vintage Verlander” but certainly better than he has been recently. Verlander will keep working to find what is derailing his efforts, and in the meantime he hopes some of the soft hits start going toward his teammates in the outfield and that the hard hits happen without runners on base.
“When it rains, it pours, and it’s been a rough time for me the past month or so, but nothing you can do but stay confident,” Verlander said. “You’ve got to stay confident in yourself and move forward and turn the page.”