McCosky: If traded, Verlander’s work will be missed

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — We’re going to miss this. Truly miss it.

If the Brewers or the Astros or the Cubs find a way to put together a strong enough prospect and financial package to entice the Tigers to trade Justin Verlander — and are deemed legitimate enough contenders to convince him to waive his no-trade clause — there will be no more nights like we were treated to Wednesday.

And that will be sad for those who enjoy and appreciate watching a master craftsman work.

Verlander was a monster for seven innings against the Royals. He came out attacking the strike zone with four pitches. He threw just three balls in the first three innings (21 pitches). After five, he had thrown 70 pitches and missed the zone with 15.

He was getting swings and misses with his slider (10) and called strikes with the fastball (nine). He was setting up hitters and putting them away with far more efficiency than he has in past starts.

He put down 14 of 16 to start the game, ended up making one mistake — hanging a slider to Brandon Moss (solo homer) — and struck out eight.

“He was outstanding,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

You knew it from the start. He overpowered Lorenzo Cain with three fastballs in the first inning, but none firmer than 95 mph. They were lively and expertly located and Cain swung feebly.

He struck out Eric Hosmer in the second, getting an extremely ugly swing on a 2-2 change-up.

It became clinical.

In the third inning, he set up Alex Gordon with two high 95-mph heaters, then buckled his knees with an 81-mph curveball. Two batters later, he got Jorge Bonifacio to swing ugly at two sliders diving out of the strike zone, then polished him off with a 96-mph fastball that Bonifacio just looked at.

The best at-bat of the night was the nine-pitch duel he won with Mike Moustakas in the fifth inning. Verlander fell behind, missing with three straight mid-90s fastballs. Moustakas swung at the 3-0 pitch (95 mph) and fouled it back.

Verlander was unaffected. He unleashed three more heaters — 96, 97 and 97 — that Moustakas gamely fouled off. On the ninth pitch, and the third 3-2 pitch — Verlander had the utter temerity to break off an 81-mph curveball. Swing-and-miss strike three.

“Are you saying I had the (guts) to do that, or that I had the ball and I did that,” Verlander said, laughing.

This is another thing we will miss. His post-game interviews run the gamut from entertaining to informative, from endearing to combative.

They are never dull.

“I have put a lot of faith recently in Alex (Avila) calling the game for me,” he said. “Going back to Cleveland and feeling like maybe I have fallen into habits sometimes. I wanted to get out of that and let someone else’s mental thought process take over and just ride with it.

“Obviously, I don’t think Moustakas thought the curveball was coming. It wasn’t a real good swing.”

How about that? Nobody micro-manages their own starts more than Verlander has over the years. And here is was on Wednesday, turning the keys over to Avila. If the Astros, Cubs or Brewers do end up acquiring Verlander, they might want to make a pitch for Avila, too.

“I’ve been searching and searching most of the year to find some consistency,” he said. “I looked at film, compared film and I feel like I found something.”

This, too, will be missed. Verlander and his never-ending mechanical tweaks. This one was the third or fourth adjustment that he’s come up with this season. But this was the one he seemed most passionate about.

Listen and learn:

“My acceleration phase, when I go to throw the ball and how my arm was tracking, for some reason it kind of crept low,” he said. “The only thing I can liken it to is a catapult throwing a big rock — an old-school, ‘Game of Thrones’ type catapult.

“As opposed to getting on top of the ball. I noticed it, worked on it and almost immediately saw results.”

He compared video from 2011. And what he discovered was so subtle, even pitching coach Rich Dubee couldn’t spot it.

“It’s kind of a sneaky adjustment,” Verlander said. “Because if you freeze-frame yourself at the release, it’s similar, pretty close. But how I got to the release point was vastly different.”

What the adjustment did was allow him to get on top of the ball — fastballs and off-speed pitches. He hadn’t been able to get that downward angle which would allow him to locate at the bottom of the strike zone.

“All my stuff had been up in the zone, which is a big reason why I had been getting a lot of foul balls,” he said. “Especially the fastball.

“When I am able to get a good fastball angle down in the zone, you get roll-overs and they put it in play, as opposed to when it rides up in the zone and they can foul it off easier.”

He has no idea why his acceleration phase got out of whack, and at this point, it doesn’t matter. He feels he’s solved the problem.

“When I saw it, it just kind of made sense,” he said. “Everything I’d been chasing and everything I’d been struggling with a little bit, I could trace it back to that. … Sometimes you go searching for stuff for a while and you just happen to find it.

“I wish I would have felt it or noticed it or seen it three months ago. But such is life.”

The Tigers have to do what they have to do in terms of getting their house in order. But make no mistake, we’ve all been blessed to watch Justin Verlander, a true ace in every sense of the word, ply his craft for 12 seasons.