Calm focus becoming Verlander's trademark
Tigers ace simply preparing for start rather than chasing history
MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Verlander showed a businesslike approach in the wake of his no-hitter last Saturday, from the calm look and cool smile on his face to the congratulations he got from his catcher, Alex Avila, after the last out. His approach since hasn't been much different.
That can't possibly be good news for his next opponent, the Royals, who meet him Friday night at Comerica Park. Well over 30,000 fans are expected for Verlander's homecoming, many of them hoping to see another gem.
Verlander celebrated his second no-hitter by going out to dinner with his teammates Saturday night in downtown Toronto. He was reportedly among the first players in the visiting clubhouse at Rogers Centre the next morning, even though he had no involvement in the game that afternoon. It was a workout day for him, and a no-hitter wasn't going to change that.
From that point on, his mind was off his bit of history, and onto what -- or who -- is in his future.
"After that night was over, it was business as usual for me," Verlander said. "I had to go in the next day and get my work in and prepare myself. I'm always thinking ahead. The next day, when I wake up in bed, I'm thinking about the Royals' lineup, some of their guys and how I'm going to pitch them and approach them. That's normal."
It's normal for him. It might be unusual for a lot of others.
While the Tigers readied Wednesday morning to try to finish off their road trip with their fifth straight win, Verlander was dodging raindrops in the visiting bullpen at Target Field, preparing for the game after that by throwing his side session. He is a creature of routine, down to the last detail. If he needs to play catch on a day the team is off, he'll come to the ballpark. When he comes to the ballpark on the day of a start, he has arranged the playlist on his music player to slowly gear up the intensity as he gets closer to game time.
The Royals' lineup doesn't include anyone named Johnny Vander Meer, but it's a name Verlander might have a tough time ignoring as his start nears. He won't be facing him, but in a way, he'll be pitching against him. For anyone who pitches a no-hitter, it's unavoidable until he takes the mound again -- and gives up his first base hit.
Unrealistic as it may be -- and it may have the same lofty status as Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak or Ted Williams' .406 batting season -- Vander Meer's mark of back-to-back no-hitters is possible until that first hit. And as everyone has heard over the past several days, Verlander is the kind of pitcher with the potential for no-hit stuff every time he takes the mound. He has enough out pitches that he can do without one and still shut down a Major League lineup on any given day, as he did with his curveball last weekend.
Maybe Friday is that given day -- again.
"You have to throw one to have a chance to do it, don't you?" Verlander asked with a smile.
You have to do it for a quite a while to throw two, and he knows it. But he doesn't completely rule it out.
"Obviously, it's something that would be amazing," Verlander said. "It's one of those records that probably will never be broken. But records are made to be broken.
"Just treat it as another start. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Things have to go in your favor for something like that to occur. Things really have to go in your favor to do it twice. Not saying it couldn't happen, not saying it ever will, but I'd like to say I'm a guy who could do it."
He doesn't necessarily have to, because others will say it for him.
"It wouldn't surprise me if he gets another one at some point in his career," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's how good his stuff can be on days."
For all the attention given to former Tigers great Jack Morris' critique of his game, Morris makes the same point.
"He's got the kind of stuff that he could throw one, two, three-hit ball every time he goes out there," Morris said last week. "To me, he should be a 20-game winner every year."
Verlander's stuff is one thing. His focus on the task at hand is another. More recently, that calm preparation has stretched into his games. It's something Morris suggested to him when they talked on Tuesday, but something Verlander has already thought about for a while.
"Some of the stuff he said was stuff I had already [done] -- not the strikeout thing, just the stuff about slowing down," he said. "After the start against New York, I said if I can just carry over that stuff with more control, it's going to be really tough on hitters. And with control comes just slowing down.
"I really feel like I was nice, controlled and methodical, which is why I think at the end of the game, you saw me so relaxed about it, because I was in that mode, very businesslike -- matter-of-fact that I was going about my business. That's what I felt, even between innings, just walking up to the locker room. Everything was just kind of very fluid and slow."
In that sense, Verlander believes Saturday was a big step for him. He had a conversation with Morris on Tuesday while the two were at Target Field.
"He just told me, 'I feel like I learned something from that game, that I have something to build on,'" Morris said. "I said, 'That's great. Let's hope you do.'"
Verlander is hoping Friday brings more of the success he has already enjoyed against Kansas City.
He has owned Royals hitters over the years, as much or more than any other division opponent. That includes a 10-2 career record in 16 starts, a 2.58 ERA, a shutout and just 86 hits allowed over 101 1/3 innings. No team with at least 10 meetings against Verlander has a lower batting average against him than the Royals' .226 clip or a lower OPS than KC's .595 mark.
Some of the guys who have struggled for years against Verlander are gone, and some aren't. Alex Gordon is 4-for-20 off Verlander, with a home run and six strikeouts. Melky Cabrera is 2-for-13 against him. The one Royals player with sustained success against Verlander is Billy Butler -- 13-for-32 lifetime off him, with two homers and five RBIs.