Detroit — Just so everybody is clear, Justin Verlander doesn't think his days of being a power pitcher are over. He said Wednesday after he beat the White Sox that he fully expects his fastball to get back into the upper-90 mph range next season, and he expects to be back among the league leaders in strikeouts.
"I am not 36," he said. "I am still in my young 30s."
Verlander just completed his eighth straight season of 200-plus innings. His fastball velocity for most of the season was in the low-90s, though he did occasionally crank it up to 95 and 96 in his last couple of starts.
He struck out 159 batters, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2006.
The reason for the lower velocity and having to re-imagine the way he got hitters out this season, he said, was due to offseason surgery to repair a core muscle injury. Verlander believes that being able to go through a full offseason training regimen will facilitate a return to his normal power.
And manager Brad Ausmus, for one, isn't betting against him.
"He will be closer to form next season," he said. "The way he ended this season certainly doesn't hurt. But he didn't get his full offseason preparation because of his surgery. He didn't have a normal start to his 2014 campaign. I just think it'll be a clean slate and all those things will be behind him."
But, getting his velocity back up to 98 and 99 mph?
"I certainly wouldn't say that he can't return to that," Ausmus said.
Verlander's next start will either be Monday, if the Tigers and Royals wind up tied atop the AL Central, or Tuesday, if the Tigers end up as one of the wild-card teams, or against Baltimore in one of the first ALDS games.
The important point, though, is that, whether he is or isn't still the ace of the staff, the Tigers are completely comfortable and confident with Verlander pitching in a do-or-die game, regardless of his early struggles this season and regardless of his decreased velocity.
"There are players who perform their best when the stage is biggest and the lights are brighter," Ausmus said. "Justin has proved that he is one of those players."
In five September starts, Verlander is 3-1 with a WHIP of 1.154, and 27 strikeouts and just 5 walks. He won his last two starts, allowing a combined 5 runs in 21 innings with 16 strikeouts.
He's learned to pitch successfully without an elite fastball. But that doesn't mean he doesn't still consider himself a power pitcher.
"I am stubborn in a good way," he said. "I never give in to anything. I always try to be the best I can be."
He was asked if he might have learned something about himself this season that maybe will serve him well for the rest of his career. He didn't really buy into that.
"Well, I worked hard," he said, veering off from the question. "It was frustrating for the first part of the season, but it's nice to be able to step up when your team needs you in big moments."
There will be more to come.
Playoffs at last
Had the Tigers not made the playoffs, Rajai Davis might have gotten a complex. He might have started to feel like he was a jinx.
He's played 952 regular season games in his Major League career without being on a playoff team. He was with the Giants through 2008; the Giants went to the World Series in 2010. Davis was with Oakland from 2008 through 2010; the A's got to the playoffs in 2012.
"Yeah," he said with a laugh, "it really is a relief (to get into the playoffs). It's really nice to get in, but we're not satisfied with just getting in. Our satisfaction will come from winning it all. This organization has shown it can get to the playoffs and it can get to the World Series. But to win the World Series, that's what we want."
Still, Davis did allow himself to enjoy, just a little bit, getting over that first hurdle and making the postseason.
"It does mean a lot," he said. "It's definitely something I dreamed of. I always thought this was going to happen every year at the start of spring training. But this is definitely why I came here."
You may have noticed that ever since Ezekiel Carrera misplayed a single into a triple in a tough loss at Minnesota on Sept. 16, he hasn't been used as a late-inning defensive replacement in center field.
The reason, Ausmus explained, has more to do with J.D. Martinez's play in left field than Carrera's misplay.
"It's just that J.D. has shown he's gotten comfortable in left field," Ausmus said. "He's played really well out there defensively. Early on, he was bouncing between right field and left field and there were a few games where he mishandled a few balls."
That's why Carrera was used in the first place. Davis, a competent center fielder, would move to left field and Martinez would be removed.
"I just feel like J.D. has really settled in now and he's doing a nice job," Ausmus said.
One of the early marks Ausmus wanted to put on this team was to improve its baserunning. He was asked to assess how it went in the first year
"Overall it went well," he said. "However, there were some mistakes we should be able to cut back on."
Among those mistakes, he said, was too many guys got picked off.
"Yeah, the pickoffs, and sometimes you have to make it more clear that there are times to throttle back on the aggressiveness."
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky