Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 5/26/13
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander knows whats wrong with Justin Verlander. Tinkering, he told me, is what I would call it. Of course. Tinkering. In his last three starts, Verlander has allowed 16 earned runs over 12-23 innings. Fans, scouts and opposing hitters would choose a different participle: Struggling. But Verlander didnt use that S-word once during a 15-minute conversation Friday an indication the bizarre May has done little to change his swashbuckling psyche. Verlander has been the American Leagues best starter over the last four-plus seasons. He has the MVP and Cy Young hardware. So great is his talent and swagger that, when on the mound, Verlander regards baserunners as flukes. Hits and walks are against the natural order. Lately, those offensive accidents have become more numerous. He has a 7.32 ERA in four starts this month. For this, Verlander offers an explanation I dont suspect youd hear from other pitchers: At the end of April, he was 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA. And he decided it was time to make changes. I think I had the best April of my career, but Im always a perfectionist, the Tigers ace said. I wanted to be better. So I started tinkering, and I feel like it had the opposite effect. I cant fault myself for getting worse because I tried to get better. It didnt work, so go back to basics and get to where I need to be. Thankfully, Im somebody who makes adjustments really quickly. I feel like that could have caused a slump there, too. Because I make adjustments so quickly, Im able to work on lots of different things at once. That threw me off a little bit. Got all that? Because a 1.83 ERA wasnt good enough for Verlander, he took his delivery to the pitching mechanic . . . and came back with a 3.66 entering Mondays start against Pittsburgh. We sportswriters have Control-Z to save us when our best-intentioned efforts must be undone. Pitchers arent so lucky. Tweaking the tweaks against world-class competition, in front of 40,000 people is an arduous, frustrating task. Verlander admits that he undertook the project partially because of his widely-discussed drop in velocity at the beginning of this season. Hes not completely sure why his fastball was off by two or three miles per hour, particularly in his earliest starts. But he has theories. I feel like it had a lot to do with being three weeks behind in spring, Verlander said of his delayed throwing program because of the 266-23 innings he threw last year. The workload (in 2012) might have had something to do with it. The cold weather might have had something to do with it. It might have been all of the above. I wasnt freaking out about it, especially when I was in the game. But I feel like the process of trying to find out what was a little awry in my mechanics led to (my location) being off. Especially in those two starts against Cleveland on May 11 and Texas last Sunday I think I was throwing like 60-percent strikes with my fastball, which isnt me at all. Normally, Verlanders fastball command is so precise that he keeps it almost exclusively on either corner of the plate. That hasnt been the case lately. But Verlander believes his last outing a rain-influenced, five-inning, five-run, 110-pitch effort against Cleveland was much closer to his 11 and 12 self. Right now, he would take that. The fastball was up to 99 in Texas and up to 98 in Cleveland, he said. So, I dont (need to) worry about (velocity anymore). Amid the uncertainty, Verlander is sure of one thing: His new contract, worth a guaranteed 180 million, isnt one of those reasons behind the struggling . . . or tinkering. Never been an issue, he said of the new deal, announced near the end of spring training. Ive always said nobody can put more pressure on me than me. I put more pressure on myself than anyone possibly can not bad pressure, but the will to be the best and pressure to succeed. If I was playing for a penny, it wouldnt change that for me. Thats the inner drive some guys have and some guys dont, what makes some guys elite and other guys not. Take two guys with the same exact stuff, you can write two totally different career paths. Thats all between the ears and in the heart. Implicit in that quote, of course, is Verlanders unchanged belief that he possesses that powerful combination of guts and know-how. This is also a man whos never been on the disabled list in the major leagues. Asked about his physical health, Verlander replied, I feel fine. Still, the mechanical un-tweaking wont be complete until Verlander looks like Verlander in a game setting. He was pleased with his consistency in Fridays bullpen session. And while its strange that Verlanders bullpen sessions have become newsworthy at all, he understands the questions and debate even while doubting whether a three-start sample would have elicited a similar frenzy in generations gone by. Remember: San Franciscos Matt Cain who started opposite Verlander in last years All-Star Game and also pitched through the World Series stumbled to a 6.49 ERA in April. He has recovered with three quality starts in his last four outings. Guys with track records usually find a way, Verlander said. Once I find it, its going to be really good. As long as he doesnt tweak it again.
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