Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 6/18/13
DETROIT This is not a story about how the sky is falling on Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. He lost for the first time in his career Tuesday night to the Baltimore Orioles, but is still 8-5 with a 3.72 ERA. So, while the world is not coming to an end for Verlander, there is no doubt that his world is changing. Verlander, quite simply, is not dominating hitters this season. And as a result hes not pitching deep into games. The batting averages of opponents are way up (.217 last year to .257 this season), and his innings pitched are way down. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones might be an All-Star, but he was batting .077 with two hits in 26 at-bats against Verlander before hitting an opposite-field, three-run homer in the fifth inning. Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy golfed out a two-run homer in the fourth, giving him three homers in five consecutive at-bats against Verlander. Hardy had been 4-for-25 (.160) before that. I blacked out, Hardy said. I dont know what happened. I respect him as one of the best pitchers in the game. Hardy paused and then his eyes bulged before he smiled and added, But Im happy about it! Success against Verlander is something to be cherished, but opponents arent eager to attempt explaining it. They know how good his stuff still is, and are simply happy about turning the tables. Tigers manager Jim Leyland likes to call Verlander his horse, but the skipper has not been able to ride him as long this year. Verlander led the majors in innings pitched in both of the last two seasons, while winning the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011 and finishing second in the Cy Young in 2012. However, Verlander entered Tuesday nights start ranking 43rd in the majors in innings pitched, and is behind teammates Max Scherzer and Doug Fister in that category. Verlander has not gone longer than 7 13 innings, and had never failed to post at least an eight-inning start later than May 20 in seven previous seasons. Consider that at this same point last year, Verlander had gone eight innings or more seven times. "I always pride myself on going deep into games and I want to, Verlander said. It's just this year it seems like I haven't been executing or there have been a lot of teams that have battled me really tough. "But you just gotta turn the page. You can't think about the past; you can only go forward. Every time I go out there, I'm trying to go nine innings. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm fully confident that it will." It would be easy to say that all the innings thrown in previous seasons escalated by Detroit reaching the World Series last season have taken a toll. I dont believe thats it. Verlander is only 30, and has a conditioning regimen second to none. Hes not breaking down. Roy Halladays recent decline suggests that the wearing down theory from heavy workloads has merit. However, Halladays problems didnt begin until last year, when he turned 35. Yes, Verlanders velocity is down a couple miles per hour over recent years. But his 10.45 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth in the American League before Tuesdays games, and he threw 97 and 98 mph fastballs against Baltimore. To me the most telling statistic is batting average. Verlander led the majors by holding hitters to a .192 average in 2011, and was fourth last year at .217. He was ranked 63rd with a .257 batting average against after allowing five runs on seven hits over five innings Tuesday night. Theres not a sophisticated answer to it, Leyland said of Verlanders outing. He just didnt command his fastball. He walked four the second-most in a start this season and two of them scored on homers. I feel like it was just a hair off with it -- a lot of close pitches, Verlander said. Then the one that really hurt me, fastball-wise, was the one to Jones. First pitch, he was up there jumping, trying to ambush me first-pitch fastball. And I gave it to him, but it wasn't well located. It was up and almost middle, outer half, just where he wanted it. A couple long balls were my undoing today." He said the slider to Hardy wasnt a bad pitch. It was down, Verlander said. It was just more middle than away. Hardy has three of the seven homers Verlander has allowed this season. His long ball frequency is down from the last two years. The earned run average over the last three seasons has risen from 2.40 to 2.64 to 3.72. Giving up more than one run extra per nine innings will cause a dominating pitcher to look downright human. Hes just not at the Justin Verlander level yet, said Tigers catcher Brayan Pena. But his stuff is there. Justin is going to be a great pitcher. He will be dominating because he is very strong mentally and has a big heart. Write that down. You watch. Oh, be assured that everyones watching. When you go from great to good, everyone wonders why.
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