Tag: Justin Verlander

Scott Miller’s Starting 9: David Price Works to Pitch Past Familiar Faces

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A little sugar on your Grapefruit?…


1. He’s Got Friends in Low (and High) Places

He is the Rick Steves of the American League East, a man so well-traveled he could author a guide, rate beaches in St. Petersburg and tell you where to get the best Szechuan in Toronto’s Chinatown.

So while other starting pitchers work on command and secondary pitches this spring, David Price has one other item on his to-do list.

How to send his friends back to the dugout, grumbling bitterly, after an at-bat.

The Boston left-hander with the impressive collection of baseball passport stamps and new $217 million deal now is working for this third team in the division. He started in Tampa Bay. He finished last season in Toronto after being traded there from Detroit in July.

Only advance scouts have worked their way through the AL East more than he has. And, oh, the friends this friendly guy has made along the way.

“Pitching against your friends, for me, is hands down one of toughest things to do,” Price told B/R during spring training. “I want to see guys do well, especially my friends and ex-teammates. I’m cheering for them.

“When we’re not playing them, I’m definitely hoping they do extremely well. When we’re playing against them, I don’t want to see them do bad.”

Come again, on that last part?

“I want us to win, but if there could be a scenario where we win a really good game and everybody has a good game, I’m OK with that,” Price said. “I still want to see my friends and ex-teammates do well.”

Now in his eighth year in the majors, and given that the Red Sox will play the Rays and Blue Jays 19 times each this season, Price will be seeing old friends more often than you see Friends reruns on TBS.

“So I need to get over that pretty quick,” he said, flashing his trademark infectious smile.

The sooner, the better, is surely what the Red Sox are thinking.

And from Price’s perspective, as this new relationship begins, this also is a completely different spring in another respect: For the first time in years, he knows exactly which uniform he will be wearing for the foreseeable future.

“Absolutely,” Price said. “I’ve got comfort in knowing I’m going to be somewhere. I haven’t had that in probably three years, maybe four.

“Going back to the offseason after 2012, there was some speculation I was going to be traded then [from Tampa Bay]. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the entire 2013 season. Then after that season I definitely thought I was going to be traded before 2014.

“To know I am going to be somewhere, I haven’t had this feeling for a long time. And it feels good.”

He has enjoyed these early days of camp, getting to know some of his new Red Sox teammates, reacquainting with others and getting past the big hurdle with Big Papi. Price and David Ortiz, two of the game’s nicer men, had developed an ornery history together based on pitching inside in the heat of competition.

Now, with their very first meeting, Price has added one more friend to his ever-growing smartphone contact list.

So there’s peace of mind as Price begins work to bring another title to Fenway Park from many different avenues.

It will be fascinating to watch, because even when he didn’t have that peace, when trade rumors were swirling, Price was cool enough to remain one of the game’s best pitchers.

“I feel like I did a pretty good job of not thinking about it,” Price said. “I wasn’t thinking about a contract extension last year [in Detroit] or free agency or being traded.

“I feel like I’ve done a good job of being in a lot of experiences in which I guess I needed to focus on [the] right now. Going back to my junior year at Vanderbilt—with the expectations of being the No. 1 player heading into the draft—through my sophomore and junior seasons, staying in the present and not looking ahead to the future.   

“I feel like it started a while ago for me, and I’m very thankful to have those experiences. I’m just focusing on the present.”


2. Meanwhile, in Detroit…

There was very little that was memorable for Justin Verlander in 2015. He started the season on the disabled list for the first time in his career (strained triceps), didn’t make his first start until June 13 and finished with some of the worst numbers of his career (5-8, 133.1 innings pitched).

Yet…while the Tigers fell so far that they became sellers, trading Price and Yoenis Cespedes, Verlander quietly picked up steam in the latter part of the season. In 15 second-half starts, he posted a 2.80 ERA and 1.000 WHIP.

This spring, he’s healthy, working hard and the indicators all look good.

“I’m not going to put numbers on it,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “My gut tells me Ver will re-establish himself as one of the better pitchers in the American League.”

From Glendale, Arizona, his former catcher agrees. Alex Avila, now with the Chicago White Sox, said, “He looked great at the end of the year last year, the way he was throwing the ball. The last two months, he was 98, 99 mph, consistently.”

Though much of the conversation surrounding Verlander the past two seasons has been about his lost velocity, the fact that the Detroit ace was battling a core muscle injury two years ago and the triceps strain last year undoubtedly took its toll. So, too, the fact that he is now 33.

“I don’t put much stock in velocity, anyway,” Avila said. “When he won the Cy Young and MVP awards (in 2011), he pitched at 90, 91 and bumped it up to the mid- and upper-90s when he needed to.”


3. Family Feud in the AL Central

No more spring training dinners for Tigers general manager Al Avila and his son, catcher Alex Avila.

With the emergence of James McCann behind the plate and financial resources that needed to be allocated elsewhere, the Tigers essentially cut the catcher loose over the winter. So you can imagine the family conversations now that Alex has signed with the White Sox, Detroit’s AL Central rivals, while his father is in his first full season as the Tigers GM, having replaced Dave Dombrowski.

Alex is training in Arizona while the Tigers are in their 80th season in Lakeland, Florida. Dad and son formerly lived together during spring training, sharing dinners and cigars on the back patio following long days at the ballpark.

Now, Al jokes about living alone in Florida while Alex learns a new pitching staff in Arizona, and how the Avila family works toward splitting its loyalties.

“I’ve got the kicker,” Alex quips. “I’ve got the grandkids.”

His mother started spring training with the Sox instead of the Tigers, and what grandmother wouldn’t be enticed by a couple of granddaughters? Avery is now three years old and Zoey is one.

“We’ve had fun with it,” Alex said. “I’ve given out some White Sox gear. Problem is, my cousin is a Tigers scout, one of my best friends is a Tigers scout and my brother works for them.

“I used to give my extra gear to them. But now when I have extra White Sox gear, I can’t go there.”


4. The Way Things Work

So the White Sox signed veteran Austin Jackson the other day, and they talked about how he will play center field much of the time, particularly against lefties, and Adam Eaton will play some corner outfield.

Eaton, the White Sox’s primary center fielder for each of the past two seasons, is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and said manager Robin Ventura has yet to say anything to him.

“I haven’t talked to Robin,” Eaton told B/R on Tuesday. “I wish he would come and talk to me. Hopefully, I’ll talk to him in the next couple of days about what my role will be.”

Not that Eaton was grumbling…too much. An upbeat, talkative personality, Eaton said he welcomes Jackson and whomever else can help turn the Sox into winners.

“The more the merrier,” he said. “I think he’s a great addition to our team. I want to win a championship.

“I’ll play anywhere.”

One other note about these 2016 White Sox: When general manager Rick Hahn held exit interviews with several veterans late last season, the overwhelming consensus was: Keep this team together; we can win as is.

But ultimately, Hahn made a decision that not only did the club need a talent upgrade, but also a change in the clubhouse vibe. The additions of Todd Frazier, Avila, Brett Lawrie and now even Jackson all were made with the goal of bringing more energy to the club (which, they hope, will turn into more victories).


5. Cactus League Names of the Week

These are some easy folks to root for, because how awesome would it be if these names were playing in an MLB park near you: 

  • Socrates Brito, Diamondbacks outfielder: Lefty contact hitter who hit for average and stole 20 bases at Double-A last season.
  • Balbino Fuenmayor, Royals first baseman: Participating in his first major league camp this spring, “The Great Balbino” has recovered from last year’s knee surgery and is hoping his big power translates to the Cactus League.
  • Jabari Blash, Padres outfielder: Trying to make the big club out of spring as a Rule 5 pick from Oakland, Blash, 6’5″, could become a power source for a club in desperate need of it.
  • Jett Bandy, Angels catcher: The Los Angeles Angels’ 31st-round draft pick in 2011, Bandy was a September call-up last year and got into two games. 


6. Red the Ageless Wonder

One of the coolest sights of the spring is watching Red Schoendienst, 93, tool around St. Louis Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida, in his role as special coach/sage. Since signing with the Cardinals in 1945, Schoendienst has attended every spring training except one. He was felled by an intestinal illness last spring.

“Just having Red Schoendienst here in uniform every single morning, it’s awesome having him around and hearing his stories,” Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha said. “He doesn’t miss a day, and he’s got 70 years in baseball.”


7. Weekly Power Rankings

1. Domestic Violence Policy: Proving it isn’t messing around, MLB comes out strong in its first ruling, suspending Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman for 30 games. The NFL could learn a few things.

2. Pedro Alvarez and Austin Jackson: The trickle-down effect of free agency finally finds Alvarez (who signed with the Baltimore Orioles) and Jackson (White Sox). Maybe the Great Freeze-Out finds David Freese next.

3. Josh Collmenter: On Tuesday, which was National Pancake Day, Collmenter took a break from teaching in the Diamondbacks clubhouse to make flapjacks in an effort to raise money for Phoenix Children’s Hospital. If the veteran right-hander’s repertoire on the mound is as versatile as it is off the field this spring, here’s predicting a Cy Young Award.

4. Try Not to Suck: Ahem, Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s new slogan for his players could sell millions of T-shirts everywhere while fitting all walks of life.

5. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Thursday night’s show in Phoenix is expected to draw a large Cactus League crowd. From Camelback Ranch (home of the White Sox and Dodgers) to Cadillac Ranch, seamlessly.


8. Singles Day in Houston

The job is his to win, it appears, but is this finally Jon Singleton’s year at first base in Houston?

One reason the Astros did not offer a contract to Chris Carter over the winter is because Singleton, at 24, should be ready.

Of course, some folks thought he would be ready in 2014, but he hit only .168 in 95 games. Then he played in only 19 games in Houston last year, hit .191 with a homer and six RBI and was left off the postseason roster.

So here we are again, minus Carter, plus expectations. Still, manager A.J. Hinch stops short of saying this is a make-or-break year for Singleton.

“I think it’s hard to say that about somebody in his early-to-mid 20s,” Hinch said. “I don’t think it’s career-defining as much as I think this is the best opportunity he’s had to be a contributor on a good team as a potential starting first baseman.”

But given that the Astros finally stepped back into the winner’s circle last year, this isn’t charity. They are in no position to give jobs away, so Matt Duffy, Tyler White and hot prospect A.J. Reed, rated as Houston’s second-best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, are all in the mix this spring.

Singleton signed a five-year, $10 million deal in 2014 and still has options left, which gives the Astros options, too.

“Jon Singleton enters with the most experience and, certainly, the most eyes on him,” Hinch said. “Other guys are going to factor in as the spring goes on, depending on [how] his goes.”

But, the manager said, Singleton gets the first look.

Now we’ll see what he does with it.


9. Chatter

A couple of stats from guru Bill Chuck over at Billy-Ball.com:

  • When the Cubs’ Kris Bryant (199) and the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson (170) each fanned 170 or more times last season, it marked the second time ever that two rookies crossed the 170-strikeout threshold. The first? It was in 1986, when Pete Incaviglia (185) and Jose Canseco (175) did it.
  • Why Todd Frazier could turn around the White Sox: Over the past four seasons, he’s hit .258 with 102 homers and a .787 OPS. During the same time period, Sox third basemen combined to hit .229 with 54 homers and a .635 OPS.


9a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Lyric of the Week

Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia, banned for life for failing a third performance-enhancing drug test, said he was set up by MLB. I say here’s a dedication to those who consistently perform misdeeds from the late, great Warren Zevon:

“I started as an altar boy, working at the church

“Learning all my holy moves, doing some research

“Which led me to a cash box, labeled “Children’s Fund”

“I’d leave the change, and tuck the bills inside my cummerbund

“I got a part-time job at my father’s carpet store

“Laying tackless stripping, and housewives by the score

“I loaded up their furniture, and took it to Spokane

“And auctioned off every last Naugahyde divan

“I’m very well-acquainted with the seven deadly sins

“I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in

“I’m proud to be a glutton, and I don’t have time for sloth

“I’m greedy, and I’m angry, and I don’t care who I cross”

Warren Zevon, “Mr. Bad Example”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Will Justin Verlander’s Vintage End to 2015 Mean Big Things in 2016?

The Detroit Tigers mean to go places this season, so it sure would help if Justin Verlander pitches like an ace.

With the 33-year-old right-hander mired in a cycle of injuries and ineffectiveness, this would have been an iffy proposition a year ago. But after his finish to 2015, it might not be asking too much going into 2016.

The Tigers have already tabbed Verlander to lead their rotation. Though the club recently opened its wallet to drop $110 million on Jordan Zimmermann, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus decided he wants to start the season with the ol’ standby. And as Ausmus indicated to B/R’s Scott Miller, he didn’t tab Verlander for Opening Day just as a courtesy:

This will be Verlander’s eighth Opening Day assignment in nine years, and it positions him for one of those “don’t call it a comeback” comeback seasons. And though one can hesitate to buy into the idea, Verlander is at least trending in the right direction.

Both off the mound and on it, Verlander’s 2015 campaign started painfully. A right triceps injury delayed his debut until June 13, and he then posted a 6.62 ERA in his first six starts. This came on the heels of a 4.54 ERA in a 2014 preceded by offseason core surgery, so Verlander might have been mere minutes away from men in suits showing up at his door to demand his ace card.

But then, salvation. In his last 14 starts, Verlander pitched to a 2.27 ERA across 99.1 innings. He held batters to a .548 OPS and struck out 91 while walking only 20.

In doing so, Verlander didn’t magically transform into the pitcher who used blazing fastballs to carve out a place among baseball’s elite hurlers from 2009-12. But lest it cross anyone’s mind, that doesn’t mean he lucked into such terrific numbers.

Though 14 starts isn’t the smallest sample size, it’s still small enough the possibility of clusterluck has to be considered. With the right amount of luck, even a pitcher who’s getting routinely shelled can trick people into thinking he’s Cy Young material.

But it’s pretty clear Verlander wasn’t skating by on luck at the end of 2015. According to this table full of numbers from FanGraphs, he went from being largely helpless to oddly reminiscent of his 2009-12 self:

When Verlander was at his best, he missed plenty of bats (SwStr%) and got plenty of strikeouts (K/9), and it was no accident he was so good at keeping the ball in the yard (HR/9). He was among the best at collecting pop-ups (IFFB%) and limiting loud contact (Soft% and Hard%).

Early in 2015, Verlander could do none of these things. But later in 2015, he did them as well or better than he did in his prime. He even limited his walks, posting a rock-solid rate of 1.8 bases on balls per nine innings.

What stood out during this stretch was how Verlander used his four-seam fastball. He started going to the heat about 60 percent of the time—something he hadn’t done since 2010. And with an assist from Baseball Savant, we see that he also went back to heavily favoring the high fastball:

Note: This is a percentage of how many of Verlander’s fastballs were high fastballs, not how many of his overall pitches were high fastballs.

And it worked. Verlander held hitters to a .109 average on high heat, which helped drop the overall average against his fastball from .324 in his first six starts to .200 in his last 14 starts. All the high heat may have also made it harder for hitters to adjust to his curveball, slider and changeup, as they went from hitting .254 against those pitches to .213.

What could help explain the high heat is that, as he told Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press in October, Verlander learned to get “a little bit more in-depth” with statistical analysis and scouting reports. As pitchers have trended toward hitting the bottom of the zone, major league hitters have lost their knack for hitting high heat. While the league average against high heat was .250 in 2008, it was just .231 last year. For any pitcher who knows it, that’s practically an open invitation to throw more high fastballs.

Of course, it also helps that these fastballs were aided by more than just their locations.

The reason we can’t say Verlander magically transformed into his old self is because he wasn’t blowing gas by hitters on a pitch-to-pitch basis. He averaged 92.8 mph in his first six starts of 2015 and 92.8 mph in his last 14 starts. He’s still a long way from his 2009 peak of 95.6 mph.

And yet, Verlander regained his unique ability to throw harder as games moved along. Brooks Baseball can show this talent abandoned him in 2014 and then came back in 2015. Never was that clearer than when he blew a 98 mph fastball by Geovany Soto on his 112th pitch of a late September start.

Beyond that, Verlander’s fastball also showed more life than it had in 2014.

“What we noticed after he came back from the injury last year is that his fastball had jump at the end,” former Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones told Katie Strang of ESPN.com last month. “But that’s what we had seen back when he was healthy in previous years. His fastballs would jump on a hitter. That’s a great thing.”

Jones’ eyes did not deceive him, as Mike Petriello of MLB.com noted Verlander’s four-seamer had the highest spin rate among starting pitchers. That’s a good thing, as spin rate equals late movement, which can mean the difference between a home run and a whiff or a pop-up.

That whole thing with the high fastballs? That’s clearly Verlander using his head. But extra late-inning velocity and elite life on his fastball? That’s clearly him using his health.

As Fenech wrote, former teammate Torii Hunter told Verlander it would take him a year to fully recover from the core muscle surgery he had in January 2014. That would mean he pitched the 2014 season without a 100 percent healthy lower half, which could explain why his arm broke down before 2015 even started.

But at some point last season, Verlander finally felt better.

“I started throwing, and I expected it to hurt like it has the last few years, and all of a sudden, it feels good,” Verlander said in January, per Shawn Windsor of the Free Press. “I’ll go out and play long toss, and the next day I start throwing, and the next thing you know, I’ll start long-tossing again, and it feels good. And I’m like, ‘OK, this is what it used to feel like—fun.'”

This is where you’d expect to be able to see the difference in plain sight. To that end, the credit goes to Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs for spotting it in Verlander’s follow-through. After looking stiff early in 2015, Verlander was looser toward the end of the year.

While all of this would seem to bode well going into 2016, let’s hold our horses by acknowledging the projections aren’t quite as convincing. At Baseball Prospectus, PECOTA has Verlander posting a 3.97 ERA. At FanGraphs, Steamer and ZiPS also have Verlander with an ERA in the high 3.00s. And according to all three, he’s probably not crossing the 200-inning threshold in 2016.

One doesn’t necessarily need to have a computer for a brain to admit there’s merit to these doubts. As well as Verlander pitched down the stretch in 2015, his 33 years put him smack in post-prime territory. And given all he’s gone through, it can’t be taken for granted that his good health is actually going to last.

But while there’s no ignoring the doubts completely, there’s also no ignoring Verlander is entering the 2016 season with more causes for optimism than he’s had in years.

Physically, this is the first time he would start a season healthy since 2013. And stuff-wise, he showed through a mix of movement, location and extra gas when he needed it that his ability to dominate isn’t necessarily tied to his average fastball velocity.

This all resulted in Verlander pitching like, well, vintage Verlander. If he keeps it up, the Tigers should get more of the same in 2016.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Justin Verlander’s Temporary License Tag Stolen in Thief’s Alleged Crime Spree

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander was among the victims of an alleged crime spree in which the All-Star ace’s temporary license tag was stolen from his truck.  

According to Clifford Parody of the Ledger, 24-year-old Tyler Demalignon is accused of multiple carjackings and thefts in Lakeland, Florida, including taking the paper tag from Verlander’s vehicle Feb. 20.

The 33-year-old’s stolen property was ultimately recovered, and Demalignon is currently being held on 27 charges.

According to Parody, Verlander came out of a movie theater in Lakeland to find his tag missing. He told police he believed the tag had blown off, but it was found on a car Demalignon reportedly stole, which was full of stolen goods.

Verlander is gearing up for his 12th MLB season with the Tigers, and there is a great deal of optimism for him and the team as a whole.

After going 5-8 with a 3.38 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 133.1 innings last season, the former American League Cy Young Award winner and MVP has already been tabbed as Detroit’s Opening Day starter, per MLB.com’s Jason Beck:

While Verlander was limited to 20 starts in 2015 due to injury, he is upbeat about his health and prospects for 2016, according to Beck:

Spring training last year we talked about it and I felt pretty good, but obviously I had the injury at the end of spring. But right now it feels the best I can remember in a long time. I’m able to throw every day. I’ve been long-tossing a lot, something that I wasn’t able to do the last few years just because [I’d] long-toss one day, come back the next time and [didn’t] feel too great. But I don’t even feel like I’m pushing it right now. It just naturally feels good.

The missing license tag could have put a bit of a damper on Verlander’s time in Florida, but now, his focus can shift entirely back to baseball and the upcoming regular season.

Detroit disappointed in a big way last season with a record of 74-87, which put it last in the AL Central, but with Verlander locked in and new additions like pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and outfielder Justin Upton in the fold, a return to the playoffs is within reach.


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Justin Verlander Injury: Updates on Tigers Star’s Tricep and Return

Detroit Tigers star pitcher Justin Verlander is dealing with a tricep issue that could put the right-hander on the disabled list to start the season. 

Continue for updates. 

Verlander Could Head to DL with Tricep Issue 

Tuesday, March 31

On March 30, ESPN.com reported Verlander would miss his next scheduled start with a tricep issue.

Brad Iott of MLive.com reported on Verlander’s status, courtesy of Detroit manager Brad Ausmus:

Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award and the pitching Triple Crown in 2011, posting MLB-best totals in wins, ERA and strikeouts that year. However, he experienced adversity in 2014, as injuries hampered him and led to one of the worst seasons of his career.

A nagging right shoulder problem and surgery before the season to address an abdominal injury were among the ailments Verlander suffered last year.

Before the 2015 campaign, Verlander expressed optimism about his health, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal:

To be honest, it’s night and day. I feel better than I have in years. I was able to get back into my normal routine, get into the weight room. I also was seeing a physical therapist for an hour and a half, three days a week, just learning about my body, how the surgery could have affected me. I feel great right now.

Losing Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals this winter was a big blow to Detroit’s pitching rotation. The good news is the Tigers have another ace in southpaw David Price to help fill the void, and it’s important for Price to make the most of his starts while Verlander recovers.

Veteran Anibal Sanchez is another solid option on the Detroit staff. Although he has a strong career ERA, Sanchez dealt with injuries of his own in 2014.

Thus, it is even more important that Verlander’s latest injury is only minor. Based on his prior durability and tremendous workload, he has to hope his latest string of health issues isn’t an ongoing trend.

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Detroit Tigers Pitcher Justin Verlander Surprises Young Fan Wearing His Shirt

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander gave an unsuspecting fan at Starbucks the surprise of a lifetime.

A young fan was standing in line while wearing a Verlander shirsey (shirt + jersey). The fan had no idea his idol athlete was literally standing right behind him. Verlander had time to snap a selfie before the unsuspecting fan turned around.

Can you imagine? Getting your beverage and turning around to see your favorite athlete?. Love when this stuff happens.


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With Scherzer Gone and Tigers’ Time Running Out, Pressure Is on Justin Verlander

LAKELAND, Fla. — Justin Verlander knows all eyes are on him this season. And not just because many of those eyes are hoping to catch a glimpse of Kate Upton.

No, with Max Scherzer long gone and the Detroit Tigers still oh-fer when it comes to World Series titles under owner Mike Ilitch, the clock is ticking loudly. The Tigers are getting older. Ilitch, 85, is getting older.

And so is Verlander, now 32 and coming off his worst season since 2008.

For the Tigers to win, Verlander absolutely must re-establish himself as the pitcher both he and they think he is.

Yet his velocity is down, and questions are up.

It’s strange listening to people talk, like Verlander suddenly is…

“Old news?” he says, grinning while finishing the sentence.

Well, that or, at the very least, moving toward becoming a, gulp, finesse pitcher.

“Last year, there were a couple of starts in a row where I definitely felt good and hit 98 (mph),” Verlander says. “Hopefully this year I feel good and I’m back there.”

Maybe he will be.

Probably he won’t be.

There comes a time in every flamethrower’s life—well, every flamethrower not named Nolan Ryan—when the zip on his fastball throttles down and he must adjust.

It is not always pleasant.

For survival, it almost always is mandatory.

And for a Tigers team beginning to see what once was a huge window of opportunity start to slide shut, every potential route to October includes Verlander returning to form. The form that includes eight consecutive seasons of working 200 or more innings, two no-hitters (2007 and 2011) and winning both the American League Cy Young and MVP awards in ’11.

How crossed did this Tiger’s stripes become last summer?

His 4.54 ERA and 1.40 WHIP were his worst since 2008. His strikeouts-per-nine-innings, 6.95, was a career-low. And his average fastball velocity of 93.1 was nearly 3 mph lower than his 95.6 average in 2009, according to FanGraphs.

Verlander’s take is that he was coming off core muscle surgery performed in January 2014, and, as such, was playing from behind most of the season because his winter workout schedule was forcibly altered.

Logical, yes.

But this also is a pitcher whose ERA last summer was the eighth-worst in the majors among starters with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.

“This game isn’t easy,” Verlander says. “I knew that after 2008. Everything came easy up to that point.

“Last year, everything was a grind mentally and physically. I was able to get through it and, hopefully, get through to the other side better for it.”

The Tigers listen to all of the Monday morning quarterbacking surrounding Verlander’s dip in velocity, and they think much of it is overly alarmist.

“It’s not like he’s a thumber,” manager Brad Ausmus says, referring to finesse pitchers who rely on their thumbs to spin the ball.

“He’s such a competitor, I don’t ever expect to see anything like that again,” says pitching coach Jeff Jones, referring to the ignominy of the eighth-worst ERA in the game. “I think the core surgery slowed him down and then led to some shoulder issues.

“He wasn’t himself.”

Says catcher Alex Avila: “He throws 90 to 96. That’s pretty damn hard. And the thing is, what he learned from early in his career is how to pitch. There isn’t a need for him to change and become a soft-tosser. Better pitch location, and he’s healthy now.”

Verlander, who has never been on the disabled list, actually missed one start last August with shoulder soreness. That’s how down and out he was.

Looking back now, Verlander says he realizes that the surgery set him back much more than he allowed at this time last year.

“I think so,” he says. “I think you can’t ever allow yourself to think, ‘Oh, I had surgery, I’m not going to be able to perform.’

“But after talking to therapists, they made me aware of how much that impacts the rest of your body.”

And his sore shoulder was a direct result of that?

“I hope so,” he says.

So far, so good this spring. He’s strong. He’s sharp. He’s focused. His curveball is a point of emphasis right now, and he thinks it’s much better than it was a year ago. In his early spring starts, his fastball is sitting at 92, 93 mph, and he’s mostly pitching between 90 and 94 mph.

Not exactly the 99 or 100 of his youth, but you bet Verlander very quietly is amping up to stick a fastball in the ribs of all of the doubters.

“There is a chip on my shoulder,” he says. “You definitely don’t want to dwell on things that don’t go your way, but when you have a will and you want to be the best, it puts a little spur on your side, or whatever it may be, for extra motivation.”

Scherzer is gone, but the Tigers still have another Cy Young winner in their midst, lefty David Price (2012). In its own way, each serves as inspiration for Verlander: the void left by Scherzer, and the work of Price.

“I love watching him pound the zone,” Verlander says of Price. “He pounds the zone constantly, puts guys on the defensive and makes them be aggressive. That’s fun to watch.

“Last year, I kind of got away from that a little bit. And I’d like to get back to it.”

Since his Rookie of the Year season in 2006, the Tigers’ trust in Verlander has been both rewarded in good times and reaffirmed in bad.

That rocky ’08 season that saw him go 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA?

He roared back in ’09 to go 19-9 with a 3.45 ERA. He led the league in strikeouts (269), innings pitched (240) and starts (35). One thing the Tigers know: Do not underestimate this guy.

“I think he’s going to have a big year, I really do,” Jones says. “He’s a very proud guy. And the fact that, by his standard, he had a subpar year, I really think this year is going to be big.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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Vintage Justin Verlander Is Vital for Tigers to Continue AL Central Dominance

There weren’t many reasons to be optimistic about Justin Verlander in 2014. He spent the season producing like a below-average pitcher and all too often looked the part.

Take a listen to what’s being said about Verlander now, however, and you’ll pick up quite a bit of optimistic talk. And given the state of the Detroit Tigers, it sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

On Sunday, the 32-year-old right-hander pitched a live batting practice session. Not exactly Game 7 of the World Series, but Verlander showed enough life to draw rave reviews.

“That’s the best I’ve seen Ver stuff-wise, off the mound, since I’ve gotten this job,” Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus told Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, adding, “It was exactly what he wanted. He looked very good today.”

Granted, this is only Ausmus’ second year on the job. But knowing that his first year involved watching Verlander riding weak stuff to an ugly 4.54 ERA, Ausmus liking what he’s seeing is welcome news.

And it’s not the first bit of welcome Verlander news of the spring. We learned two weeks ago that he had added 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason, and more recently that he’s feeling far more ready for 2015 than he was for 2014 after undergoing offseason core surgery.

“To be honest, it’s night and day,” Verlander told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. “I feel better than I have in years. I was able to get back into my normal routine, get into the weight room. I also was seeing a physical therapist for an hour-and-a-half, three days a week, just learning about my body, how the surgery could have affected me. I feel great right now.”

The disclaimer here is that you have to take spring training talk like this for what it’s worth. But still, if you consider it all at once, you wonder if a bounce-back season might be in order for the former American League Cy Young and MVP winner.

For the Tigers’ sake, here’s hoping. Because if they want to have even so much as a chance at a fifth straight AL Central title, they’re going to need at least a bounce-back season from Verlander.

In lieu of a crystal ball, what we have for looking ahead to the 2015 season are projections. And though they don’t agree on too much, the projections at Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs agree on this: The Tigers are only going to win 83 games.

The bright side is that the projection systems do tend to be conservative with win totals. The not-so-bright side is that neither system thinks Detroit’s projected record will mean an easy AL Central title. Baseball Prospectus has the Tigers finishing only two games ahead of the Cleveland Indians, while FanGraphs has them finishing a game behind the Indians.

As for where Verlander fits into all this, here’s what Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs are projecting for his follow-up to 2014:

*That 0.8 WAR comes from FanGraphsruns-allowed calculation of WAR.

Both projection systems anticipate significant improvement from Verlander in 2015. Though they don’t think he’ll go back to being the ace who authored a 2.52 ERA and averaged 8.3 WAR across 2011 and 2012, his being more like the pitcher who had a 3.46 ERA in 2013 is good enough.

At any rate, here’s the point: The projections figure that even if Verlander turns the clock back to 2013, it will only put the Tigers in the mix for the AL Central title rather than clearly in the lead for it. The only Verlander powerful enough to give the Tigers a push like that is Vintage Verlander.

Which, given what we know about these Tigers, shouldn’t be too hard to believe.

Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are gone. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are another year older, and banged up to boot. J.D. Martinez is a regression candidate. Detroit’s bullpen still looks as stable as a lie detector attached to Homer Simpson.

To be sure, Verlander isn’t the only Tigers player who could outplay his projections and potentially save the team by doing so. But nobody’s track record bodes as well as his, and all the positive talk that’s coming out now only bolsters the notion that he might again be the ace the Tigers need him to be.

But beyond the talk lie the practicalities of Verlander regaining his ace status. Naturally, that’s where things get more complicated.

The one thing everyone wants Verlander to have again is velocity. It’s something he used to have in spades but not anymore. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity has fallen from 95.0 miles per hour in 2011 to just 92.3 miles per hour in 2014. 

As for what Verlander thinks about his velocity possibly coming back, he told Rosenthal: “I don’t think I need it to—but I hope it does. The ball is coming out of my hand much better now than it was a year ago.”

That sounds like a promise, but it’s one to be careful about getting excited over. 

Head to Brooks Baseball, and you’ll see a graph of Verlander’s velocity going down as his age has gone up. So as convenient as it is to chalk his velocity struggles up to last year’s surgery, it looks more like a natural byproduct of the ongoing and futile battle between Human Mortal and Father Time.

With that being the case, it’s in Verlander’s interest to accept reality and make his game less about power and more about deception. You know, maybe incorporate a cutter and sinker to go with his four-seamer.

However, it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to do this.

“I think it’s a little unfair to judge on last season. I think it’s a different story if I go out there this year and it’s the same thing,” he said, via Chis Iott of MLive.com. “I’m not going to judge changing my entire career based on an injury that plagued me last year. I don’t think that’s the right way to approach things.”

Basically, Verlander has it in mind to try to do the same things he did last year and expect different results. That’s typically the definition of insanity, and he may find that out the hard way.

Fortunately, there’s more to pitching than stuff. There’s also command, and that’s something Verlander’s return to health could actually improve.

This is from Chris McCosky of the Detroit News: “As he would discover later, the core muscle issues adversely impacted his right shoulder, which in turn forced him to alter his throwing motion which ultimately led to the second-worst season of his career in 2014.”

There is some evidence that Verlander’s throwing motion wasn’t the same in 2014 as it had been before. That didn’t manifest in fewer pitches in the strike zonehis Zone percentage actually went up—but Verlander’s 2014 is a case study in how more pitches in the zone isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Take Verlander’s fastball command. Between 2011 and 2013, we can see he mainly played with the arm-side edge of the zone, thereby pounding lefties away and righties in:

Now, compare that to what Verlander’s fastball command was like in 2014:

Relative to the three prior years, Verlander worked in the strike zone with his fastball a lot more often in 2014. Worse, he was mainly working up in the zone.

That’s the kind of approach you can get away with when you’re throwing 95. But 92? Not as much. 

And though this didn’t necessarily create problems for Verlander’s heat, it did create problems for his secondaries.

Because the velocity separation between Verlander’s heat and his secondaries is getting smaller as his fastball velocity decreases, he needs to be more careful about where he puts his secondaries. That’s something he wasn’t doing in 2014, as Baseball Savant says he shattered his previous high for secondary pitches in the strike zone. He paid for it, too, as those were hit at a career-worst .294 clip.

So, in a nutshell: Verlander was throwing way too many hittable fastballs in 2014 and exacerbating matters by throwing too many hittable secondaries. He was giving hitters every excuse to sit fastball and making it too easy for them to adjust when they didn’t get one.

Verlander may not be able to fix his velocity, but he can fix this—especially if what he said about his core surgery affecting his throwing motion is true. If he can get back to where he was and recapture his old command, then he has a chance to overcome his lost velocity and pitch more like an ace.

That’s what the Tigers should be crossing their fingers for, anyway. Because the way they’re shaping up for 2015, having Vintage Verlander wouldn’t be a luxury.

It would be more like a necessity.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Like Last Year, Justin Verlander Turning It on When Tigers Need It Most

Justin Verlander has struggled this year.  Actually, that’s a bit generous. 

Sugarcoating aside, he has been terrible.  His current 4.54 ERA is the second-highest of his career, and his strikeout total is at its lowest since 2006, his first full season in the big leagues.  His 1.40 WHIP is tied for the highest in his career, and he just hasn’t been the dominant ace he once was.

However, maybe that ace is starting to come back as the games become more important.  He pitched a gem two starts ago against the Royals, the Tigers’ biggest AL Central competitors, and outdueled White Sox ace Chris Sale on Wednesday.

In that start against Chicago, he was masterful.  He allowed seven hits, struck out six and did not walk a batter while pitching eight innings for only the second time all season.

Verlander’s recent performance is almost a carbon copy of last year’s.  He was not quite as bad in 2013 as he has been so far this year, but it seems that he is once again flipping a switch as October nears.

In last year’s postseason, Verlander took the team on his back, leading the Tigers past the Athletics with two stellar outings in the ALDS.  He started Games 2 and 5, and his two fantastic outings in those games brought back memories from his Cy Young-winning 2012 season. 

In Game 2, he struck out 11 in seven scoreless innings of work, but the Tigers couldn’t muster any offense and lost 1-0.  Then, with the season on the line in a winner-take-all Game 5, Verlander prolonged the season with 10 more strikeouts in eight scoreless innings, catapulting Detroit into the next round.

He turned in a similar effort in Game 3 of the ALCS, but the one run he gave up in eight innings was enough to get him the loss as the Tigers once again came out on the short side of a 1-0 game.

2014 has been eerily similar.  He started the season strong but ran into a wall in the second month of the season.  He pitched poorly in May, June and July, amassing ERAs of 5.54, 6.82 and 4.78, respectively.

He started pitching better in August, but then a debacle against the Pirates saw him pitch only one inning, give up five runs and then injure himself running to first after a sacrifice bunt.  That fluke injury forced him to miss some time, and it seemed like he and his team had both hit rock bottom.

Even after acquiring David Price from the Rays in a stunning trade minutes before the trade deadline, the Tigers were out of first place and in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.  The bullpen was so bad that some speculated about the Tigers inserting Verlander into the closer’s role for the postseason.

The Tigers decided to stick with Verlander in the rotation, and he has made good on that trust.  The Tigers are 6-1 in Verlander’s seven starts since returning to the rotation, and he has gotten the victory in five of those.

Detroit’s magic number is now three, meaning if a combination of Tigers wins and Royals losses reaches three, the Tigers clinch the division and avoid the treacherous one-off Wild Card Game.

If Verlander is right, which I think he is now, the Tigers are going to be scary over the course of a five- or seven-game playoff series.

An overpowering pitching rotation of Max Scherzer, David Price, Verlander and Rick Porcello will be very tough for any opponent, and the offense is pretty good as well.

Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are two of the best hitters in the entire MLB, and the additions of Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis give the lineup a dynamic it didn’t have last year.  For example, when Davis stole his 35th base of the season in Wednesday’s win against the White Sox, it matched the number of steals the Tigers stole as a team in 2013.

In last year’s playoff run that ended in the ALCS against the Red Sox, the offense did not have anything even resembling a running threat, forcing the Tigers to play base-to-base baseball, basically waiting for an extra-base hit or a string of hits to score runs.

Now, though, they have Davis, who has over 300 stolen bases in his career.  He has been one of the league’s most prolific base stealers over the past six years; he has averaged 42 steals over those years.  You can guarantee that if the Tigers are locked in a close game, Brad Ausmus will have the confidence to give Davis the green light to get into scoring position.

Back to pitching, the bullpen has been disastrous for most of the season.  The Tigers signed Joe Nathan in the offseason, but his ERA has been around five all year.  They acquired Joakim Soria at the deadline for some late-inning help, and Anibal Sanchez has returned from the disabled list as a reliever as well.

However, Verlander might be the X-factor.  Which one will show up: the terrific Verlander or the one with a 4.50 ERA?

If last year is any indication, Verlander will turn it on and be an ace.  If he can pitch at the same level he did in last year’s postseason, the Tigers have to be dark-horse candidates to advance all the way to the World Series.

The American League is loaded with the likes of the Angels, Orioles, and A’s, but with Verlander at his best, the Tigers have three Cy Young-caliber pitchers to go along with one of the best offenses in the league. 

It’s going to come down to Verlander, and if he is up to the task, watch out for the Detroit Tigers.

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Justin Verlander’s Rejuvenation Is Everything the Detroit Tigers Need Right Now

All of the pitching luxuries the Detroit Tigers seemed to have four weeks ago have systematically evaporated and been replaced by the first stages of panic.

When the Tigers maneuvered a trade for David Price at the non-waiver deadline, they were quickly anointed American League Central champions, champions of the league by some and champions of everything by a few others. The expectations for a team with the game’s most prolific hitter and three former Cy Young Award winners in its rotation were too high to measure.

Then, they came crashing down as the calendar did away with August and the Kansas City Royals did away with Detroit’s lead in the AL Central division.

Now, the Tigers are happy to get anything in the realm of positive as they chase the once-buried Royals and a wild-card berth. Justin Verlander’s start Friday night against the Chicago White Sox qualifies as positive, and if the Tigers are going to live up to any expectations created for the coming October, they will surely need more of this from their former-ace-turned-middle-man.

Verlander turned in seven innings and struck out eight, and despite giving up nine hits, he surprisingly allowed only a single run Friday night. It was a flashback to the Verlander of 2012the 2011 Verlander was on another planet and probably would have made the entire White Sox lineup disappear with some sort of ray gun. 

The Tigers are desperate for those kinds of outings from any starting pitcher right now.

With Anibal Sanchez hitting the disabled list on Aug. 9 and probably out for the season with a pectoral muscle strain, Verlander missing a start a week later because of shoulder inflammation and David Price alternating between front-line starter and mediocre/terrible, the Tigers are in need of someone to step up and provide life to the rotation.

Rick Porcello has provided a boost with a 2.11 ERA over his last seven gamesone of those was an extra-inning relief appearancebut the Tigers clearly need more, or else they wouldn’t be staring up at the Royals.

Add that to the fact that the Tigers offense went into a slump earlier this month and Miguel Cabrera has one home run and nine RBI since July 26 and the pitching becomes even more important. 

And because the bullpen is a serious source of worryits 4.41 ERA this season is the third-worst in the league, per FanGraphsit will have to be the starting pitcher, once seen as the best in baseball, to carry this team into October. 

Verlander’s first start back after missing one because of the shoulder discomfort was not comforting. He went 5.2 innings and gave up four runs. He got the win, pushing his record to 11-11 but raised his ERA up to 4.82 as he continued to stare at his worst season since 2008. Concern reigned all around him and the Tigers.

But in Verlander’s best years, he has had an ability to find a supercharge when he needs it most, whether it was a 101 mph fastball in the eighth inning for a key strikeout or a 130-pitch shutout.

Friday’s outing was in that mold. Another bad start by Verlander and full-on panic might have been setting in in Motown. But after a shaky 23-pitch first inning, Verlander didn’t allow a run, struck out seven and didn’t walk another batter as his fastball lived in the 93-95 mph range.

Once he came out of the game, the bullpen, which has been so maligned all season and in recent games as well, pitched two scoreless innings to make it 15 in a row without allowing a run for that group.

Suddenly, the Tigers are a half-game back of the Royals, and Verlander is providing hope rather than uneasiness, which is exactly what the Tigers need as they try to rebound from a team in distress to one on the attack.

When Verlander was at his best in 2011 and 2012, he was maybe the best in baseball. Expecting a 31-year-old arm with nearly 2,000 major league innings on it to regain that form is unrealistic. The Tigers don’t need that Verlander anyway.

They need him to be rejuvenated from what he has been since May, which is an average starter with average command. Maybe that one-start break will give Verlander that jump-start.

If it does, that is all the Tigers will need to win the Central division and again be a legitimate threat in October.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Milwaukee Brewers beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Justin Verlander Injury: Updates on Tigers Star’s Shoulder and Return

Updates from Tuesday, Aug. 12

Chris Iott of MLive.com reported on Justin Verlander following Tuesday’s MRI:

Jason Beck of MLB.com provides comments from Tigers manager Brad Ausmus:

Detroit Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand expanded on the results, via Iott:

Justin underwent an MRI this morning in Detroit which basically showed normal wear and tear on a pitcher’s shoulder. No major structural damage. He’s obviously going to be reevaluated tomorrow at the ballpark by Dr. (Stephen) Lemos. When he sees him then we’re going to discuss all treatment options at that time.

Original Text

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander was removed from the team’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday with an apparent shoulder injury after just one inning of work. 

Chris Iott of MLive.com reported the news on Verlander’s injury:

After the Tigers’ 11-6 loss to the Pirates, Iott provided an update on Verlander:

Verlander was blunt in his assessment of the night and also spoke about how he felt, via Tom Gage of The Detroit News

The 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner has gone just 10-10 this season with a 4.76 ERA. His ERA has not been above 4.00 at the end of a season since 2008, also the last season he failed to amass 200 strikeouts.

Earlier this month, Verlander spoke about attempting to turn around his season, per Brendan Savage of MLive.com:

I think pitching is constant tinkering. You’re always working on things. This year I made more drastic adjustments than I would have liked but I feel like I’m heading in the right direction and will continue working on what I’ve been working on and go out there and continue to pitch the way I did tonight.

Unfortunately, those struggles resurfaced on Monday night. But the possible injury might be more significant for the Tigers.

Verlander surrendered five runs during the outing before being taken out. ESPN Stats & Info notes the significance of the unfortunate start:

The start was not only bad for Verlander, but also for the exhausted Tigers bullpen, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today pointed out:

There is no word yet on the severity of the injury, but the situation will be evaluated further on Tuesday, as Iott mentioned.

The Tigers came into Monday night just a half game ahead of the Kansas City Royals and needed a strong outing from Verlander.

Following the buzz generated around Detroit after the David Price acquisition at the trade deadline, potentially losing Verlander would be extremely disheartening.

Verlander has been scuffling this season, but he has been a crucial component for the Tigers over the last nine years. If he is forced to miss time, their playoff hopes could take a hit.


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