August 27, 2013 at 1:54 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers desperately need Justin Verlander to be Justin Verlander

Detroit You wondered last Thursday, after Justin Verlander said he was frustrated following a bad loss to the Twins, if his bosses werent more frustrated with their ace.

The answer, as if we didnt know, came during Mondays pregame session with Jim Leyland. The skippers patience is shrinking.

We dont always agree on things, Leyland said, watching his words, but not backing away from an issue that has bewildered the Tigers for too much of 2013. All Justin Verlander needs to do is use his stuff and pitch with that arrogance.

Verlander is 12-9 with a 3.68 ERA. He will start tonight for the Tigers against the As in a bid to restore the old gun-em-down style that won him Cy Young and MVP trophies two years ago, and nearly earned him another Cy Young last season.

Numbers don't lie

This year has been off-key. His ERA is more than a point greater than it was a year or two ago and higher than it has been since 2008. A better measure is WHIP, which stands for walks plus hits per inning. Verlanders WHIP was a scary-good 0.92 in 2011 and 1.06 in 2012. It stands today at 1.36, which is a number you might expect from a back-end starter.

Verlander has had mechanical hang-ups that seemed to have been solved a few starts ago. A delivery kink had caused him to lose downward bite on his curve, the deadly No. 2 pitch that coupled with his high-90s fastball made him the most dynamic pitcher in baseball.

But his strikeouts are down he has not hit double-digit Ks since May 27 and his control too often has not been in the Verlander mode. Unthinkably, if the Tigers were to begin the playoffs today, Verlanders place in a series rotation would be uncertain and unsettled.

Leylands irritation was within bounds Monday and crystal-clear. It isnt that he has lost faith in his ace. Quite the opposite, he sees at the top of his rotation a thoroughbred who doesnt need to win trophies but who should be winning more games.

Neither he nor the front office expects Verlander to spin a steady stream of silken games on the level of his 2011 and 2012 mastery. So often during those glitzy days, if Verlander wasnt carrying a no-hitter into the fifth inning or beyond, fans wanted a ticket refund.

It wasnt going to continue. But neither, by any measure of Verlanders skills, does this 2013 campaign quite make sense.

Just not the same

Earlier this season, there was a thought Verlander was adjusting to age. He turned 30 in February and is under contract through at least 2019. He has thrown more pitches than any big-league pitcher the past few seasons and cant work with the same abandon he knew during his 20s. He is, after all, mortal.

But what frustrates the Tigers and Verlander is not age or limitations. Its that he has had such an uneven season at a point his body is months removed from the 2011-12 Verlander.

It boiled over for all parties last Thursday at Comerica Park.

The Tigers got six runs against the Twins in the rubber game of their series. A first-place team, a championship-bent team, needed to win that game when hitters did their part and their ace was handed the ball.

But it didnt happen. Verlander allowed 10 hits. He walked three. The Twins socked him for six runs. You could consider it the Tigers worst loss of the season because of the competition, the moment, and a six-run Tigers comeback that couldnt withstand the runs Verlander allowed in his six-inning shift.

Only a few weeks ago, when it was suggested Verlander was now an issue, I dismissed the idea. He was Verlander. He was human. He would straighten out. The stuff, as Leyland repeated Monday, was still there.

But last Thursdays game was confirmation, apparently not only in this corner, but in others, that the ace has to get his stop-and-start season back to a standard closer to Justin Verlanders earlier splendor.

If he does and he could reclaim it as early as tonight the Tigers and Verlander can deal with an erratic year even superstars come to know.

But he has to get it ironed out. Thats his mission, and its uniquely his, if the Tigers are to polish off this season with a division title, win home-field advantage, and unleash their full arsenal against Octobers unforgiving playoff lineup.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/Lynn_Henning

Justin Verlander has regressed considerably after winning the Cy Young in 2011 and nearly again in 2012. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News