Windsor: Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander getting crafty with age

He isn’t what he was, not stylistically anyway, and not substantively, either. But how many of us can do at 33 what we did at 22?

It’s not fair to ask Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander to be immortal, so we won’t. It is reasonable, however, to expect him to adjust to the tools he has and get hitters out.

Which is what he did Wednesday at Comerica Park, and what he has done in two previous starts. If you’re counting, that’s three outings in a row that Verlander has pitched well.

Very well.

And if the Tigers are going to survive the summer — heck, the rest of the month — then Verlander’s continued renaissance is crucial.

Against the Minnesota Twins, he was masterful, mixing speeds, using his curve, but mostly moving his fastball around the edges of the plate as intended. That command has eluded Verlander for much of the past two seasons. Until the middle of last summer, when he began to regain his health and started the metamorphosis we are seeing now.

Said manager Brad Ausmus:

“Since the end of last July, when a lot of people doubted him, he’s kind of shown he’s got a lot left in the tank. He may not be throwing 97 to 100 anymore, but he’s got years of experience, and he can still crank it up to 96, 97 when he needs to.”

And?

“He’s got more moxie.”

The trade-off for aging, I suppose, though only if we embrace it. For a while, adjusting to his new limitations wasn’t easy for Verlander. That’s understandable. Who among us wouldn’t protest the loss of magic?

Verlander was reminded of his former self in the eighth inning Thursday while watching a highlight reel on the ballpark’s leftfield video board. The clips showed his two no-hitters and his first career strikeout, an homage to reward his 2,000th strikeout — the 10 on Wednesday pushed him to and over the mark.

“The video was pretty cool,” he said. “Man, the first strikeout they showed … I was pretty young.”

It goes by fast, doesn’t it?

And as Verlander mentioned in the postgame clubhouse: “You have to evolve.”

After the video finished, Verlander stepped from the dugout to tip his cap to the crowd and acknowledge the standing ovation. His performance — three runs, six hits, 71/3 innings — reminded everyone he was still here, just in a different form.

For this team to get to where it still thinks it can go — and Verlander and his teammates are adamant they can — the starting pitching has to get better. What the elder statesman of the staff showed is that this is possible, at least in his spot in the rotation.

“It’s been better for me the last few (games),” he said.

He’d been close to figuring it out the first month but was upended by a few loose pitches here and there. A recent adjustment with pitching coach Rich Dubee helped. He changed the position of his arm when he delivers his pitches, which has, in turn, changed the way his fastball looks to hitters.

That has led to more strikeouts, and to more swings and misses period.

“We’ve seen pretty dramatic effects,” Ausmus said.

We might say the same of this team, and of the manager, whose home-plate tirade helped send a jolt through the clubhouse. Wednesday’s 6-3 win over the Twins was the Tigers’ fourth straight, and although the Twins are not a good club, the immediate outlook isn’t as bleak.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of forgetting. A losing streak. A slump. The pitcher you used to be.

“The biggest thing (in this game) is knowing how to forget,” Verlander said.

In order to remember who you are now.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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