May 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Recent slip by Tigers, Verlander likely just a blip on the season

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Detroit If you close your eyes and concentrate, you might remember when the Tigers used to be really, really good. Like, a week ago. That sheen of invincibility with their glossy starting pitchers? Its gone for now not gone for good and its hard to figure out where it went.

Justin Verlander is virtually unrecognizable at the moment, and so is the team. It happens in a long season, but what happened again to Verlander on Sunday was concerning. Its not inexplicable lately when he has a rough outing, and thats inexplicable.

Another huge crowd witnessed another flop, as the Rangers pounded the Tigers 12-4 to officially turn an odd slide into an ugly slide. Thats six losses in seven games, and it could end up being just a blip. In fact, the way its unfolded, with every starter other than Anibal Sanchez getting knocked around, its likely a blip. Aces dont turn into jokers in a week, and well learn more during a tough road trip that starts today in Oakland.

Verlanders struggles are pushing the boundaries of a blip, coming off a wobbly 2013, followed by off-season core-muscle surgery. Weve learned not to wonder too deeply about him because he tinkers early, toys often, and usually returns to dominant form at the end. But over-tinkering can lead to over-thinking, which led to Verlander testing a new arms-over-the-head delivery Sunday.

He abandoned it early in the game, and nothing really changed. The Rangers feasted on his off-speed stuff and didnt fear the fastball, which rarely touched 95 mph. Verlander gave up 11 hits, nine runs (six earned) in five-plus innings and struck out only one. When Alex Rios laced a two-run triple to make it 7-2 in the fifth, you could hear a smattering of boos from the sellout crowd of 42,583.

Verlanders command was a mess just 62 of his 109 pitches were strikes so you can bet theres more tinkering ahead, for better or worse.

Im not gonna stay where Im at, he said. Im determined. Ive got the mental confidence to turn the page. I know how good I am, and Im not gonna dwell on these past starts. Thats not me and its never been me.

Residual effects

Verlander has surrendered five or more earned runs in three consecutive starts, one of his rockiest stretches since 2008. Hes 5-4 with a 4.04 ERA and his WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) is an unseemly 1.51, the highest of his career. For comparison, his WHIP was 0.92 in his 2011 Cy Young season.

Although hes recovered from the January surgery, he admits there could be some residual effect. What exactly it is, he doesnt know. Its a familiar befuddlement, as Verlander struggled early last season and didnt regain his famous edge until late.

Every now and then, itll get a little sore, Verlander said. I know Torii (Hunter) had a similar surgery and he said it took him a year to really feel he was back. I dont feel pain when Im throwing. It could still be weak, who knows? Thats not something I can concern myself with.

Its not something manager Brad Ausmus is concerned about either. The Tigers are 28-18 and in first place after a week of horrid pitching, so the rookie manager also leans heavily toward the Big Blip Theory, not the Big Bang Theory.

Watching the Tigers talented rotation get pummeled is like being served cold soup for a week at your favorite restaurant. It makes no sense and it may never happen again, but youre going to wonder about that next bowl of minestrone.

The last couple starts havent been vintage Justin Verlander, but this guy is a competitor, hell get his kinks worked out and hell be back, Ausmus said. (Tinkering) is part of what makes him great. His stuff is great and his makeup is unbelievable. (Roger) Clemens approach to pitching was very similar he would tinker to try and make himself better.

A weak week

The search for the perfect delivery can be painstaking and often fruitless. Verlander was fiddling with all sorts of release points Sunday, and while hitters didnt know where the ball was coming from, he had no idea where it was going.

Its magnified right now because Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello also had poor outings, and what a difference a weak-armed week makes. The Tigers had won six straight after sweeping the Red Sox, then got swept by the Indians and lost three of four to the Rangers, outscored 35-15.

This has nothing to do with the Tigers plane troubles that made their trek to Cleveland so difficult. And I doubt its about over-confidence or boredom after stomping to an early lead in the division. Baseball is a funny, humbling game heck, the world champion Red Sox have lost 10 straight and thats partly why Verlander isnt freaked out.

Youre trying to find the right pieces to fit, but its not like Im questioning everything, he said. Ive got the past and Ive got the mental fortitude, so its only looking forward and finding it. Theres no doubt in my mind I will.

If there was any doubt, he wouldnt say it. Verlander falls into these ruts and claws his way out, and so do the Tigers. Slips become blips, and they certainly hope its nothing more than that.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski

'I've got the mental confidence to turn the page,' Justin Verlander says. 'I'm not gonna dwell on these past starts.' / Robin Buckson / Detroit News