Chicago — He looks like Justin Verlander, competes likes Justin Verlander, but only occasionally this season has pitched like Justin Verlander.
So, at 6-6 with a 4.61 ERA after 14 starts, what gives?
First of all, one theory can be debunked right away: It’s not the strikeouts — or the lack of them.
Verlander has 67 strikeouts in 912⁄3 innings. He’s had one start with eight, four with seven, but hasn’t yet reached double digits.
By this time last year, he’d had a 13-strikeout game, a 12, two nines and two eights.
But he’s proven in the past he does not need strikeouts to win this early in the season.
Verlander is in his ninth full season with the Tigers. In six of those seasons, he’s had fewer strikeouts than innings pitched after 14 starts, as is the case this season.
Heck, when he was a rookie in 2006, he had 53 strikeouts in 892⁄3 innings his first 14 starts, but he was 8-4 with a 3.21 ERA.
In three of the six seasons he’s had fewer strikeouts than innings pitched.
So it’s not the Ks.
Strikeouts have been such a part of how Verlander has pitched in the first half of the last two seasons, however, that the contrast to the number he has now is stark.
But he can succeed without them, because he has.
Something obviously isn’t right with him, though. Verlander hasn’t had fewer than the six wins he has now through 14 starts of any season since he was 3-9 in 2008.
And his ERA of 4.61 is easily the highest it’s been through 14 starts since he was at 4.65 in 2008.
His other ERAs at this point have ranged from 2.66 in 2012 to 3.54 in 2010.
But it’s not just his ERA that’s creating a cloud of concern about Verlander. It’s the way innings have a way of mushrooming on him, as did the seven-run sixth inning of Chicago’s 8-2 victory over Detroit on Wednesday night did.
The fault this time, as it was his last start, was control. With back-to-back four-walk games, it’s the first time since May 8-13, 2010 that Verlander has issued more than three walks in two consecutive games.
He went 138 starts between such bouts of generosity, but won both of those 2010 starts. This time it was more difficult to overcome.
Verlander was studying video with pitching coach Jeff Jones in the Tigers clubhouse Thursday, but Jones and manager Brad Ausmus said it was a routine day-after session, and that it would only get attention because there is no separate video room in the visitors’ clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field.
“What Justin is doing is pretty standard,” Ausmus said. “But when things are working the way a player wants them to look, they’re less likely to look at video.
“The only way a player can see what his body is doing is by looking at video. Unless he has a mirror with him, a pitcher can’t see what he’s doing while pitching in a game. But even with a mirror, you’d have to look at it while throwing the ball.”
But even if Verlander and Jones had found something that needed adjusting, Verlander was adamant after Wednesday night’s start, in which he allowed seven runs on eight hits in 52⁄3 innings, that he is done tinkering.
As he has said at various points in other seasons, and has been right about it, he also feels he’s throwing too well for his season not to turn around.
“The stuff is there,” Verlander said. “I’m where I need to be.”
“Stop tinkering,” he said. “I just need to throw and repeat, repeat, repeat. That will translate into the game.”
“That’s generally how baseball players look at the game,” Ausmus said. “If they are doing things right, the statistics will follow.”
But for now?
“Everything that can go wrong is going wrong,” Verlander said. “Not just for myself, but for the team. It’s very frustrating because I feel I’m right there.”
Right where, though? There’s been talk his velocity is off.
“I’m not seeing 100 (miles an hour),” Verlander said. “But my fastball velocity is sitting as high as it ever has. It’s pretty doggone close to where it should be.
“As I said, my stuff is there. It’s just a matter of repeating it, staying with it and controlling it. I haven’t thrown this hard in a while. It takes repetition. I’m at where I want to be mechanics-wise, I’m just not repeating it yet.”
One thing about Verlander is he always has a reference point in his own career that he point to.
“This stretch reminds me of 2009,” he said. “I had a horrible April (was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA through four starts), but my stuff was great and I knew I was going to be there.”
He was right.
In his next 18 starts that year, he went 12-3 with a 2.17 ERA.
“(My stuff is) there, I know it is.” he said. “It’s just a matter of reining it in. When that happens, then it’s trouble.”
And he doesn’t mean for himself.
Tigers vs. Twins
First pitch: 7:08 p.m. Friday, Comerica Park
LHP Drew Smyly (3-4, 3.81), Tigers: His start was moved to tonight after Wednesday's game in Chicago was postponed. He allowed only one run in six innings while earning the win in a 6-2 victory over Boston Saturday.
RHP Kyle Gibson (5-5, 3.91), Twins: He pitched seven scoreless innings while allowing only three hits in an 8-0 victory over the Astros at home Saturday. He is 0-4 in his last five road starts.