DETROIT -- After another dominating start, the number of superlatives to describe pitcher Justin Verlander this season are running low.
Thirteen of his 14 starts this season have been quality starts and he holds a 7-3 record. After an eight-inning, season-high, 10-strikeout performance against the Mariners on Thursday, Verlander's ERA on the season stands at 2.89 and his WHIP is 0.94 -- the second-lowest in the Majors -- in 102 2/3 innings, which is the most in the Majors.
"He's got the best stuff of anybody I've ever had, there's no question about that," manager Jim Leyland said after Thursday's game. "Pure, crude stuff, he's got the best. He's still in the process of becoming the best pitcher, which I think is a possibility. Justin's starting to figure things out pretty good."
One of those things Verlander is beginning to improve upon is controlling his emotions. Leyland called Thursday's seventh and eighth innings two of the best he's seen Verlander pitch this season. Verlander stayed composed with a late lead and a high pitch count, when many pitchers get "hyper," according to Leyland.
"He's learned to calm down a little bit more, not get quite as hyper, not overthrow as much, not get quite as antsy in some situations," Leyland said Friday. "He's on his way, he should become a great pitcher."
Verlander's third-to-last pitch Thursday -- No. 124 -- was clocked at 98 mph. He said he would have been able to pitch the ninth inning if called upon, but Leyland went with closer Jose Valverde. His velocity isn't slowing down, and there aren't any signs Verlander's success will either.
"All my preparation in the offseason is what comes into play during the season," Verlander said Thursday. "This is why I work my tail off during the offseason, so that I can do what I'm doing right now, go late into games, throw [a lot of] pitches, still feel good and come back strong next game."
Avila's numbers show catcher All-Star worthy
DETROIT -- When asked if he deserves to be an All-Star, catcher Alex Avila didn't flinch.
The numbers are there: a .297 average (which leads American League catchers), nine home runs (third among AL catchers), a .564 slugging percentage (leads AL catchers) and he has thrown out 36 percent of runners trying to steal, which is fourth in the AL. But Avila has always been confident in himself, and whether or not he is selected for the All-Star Game won't affect him. More important are the team numbers, specifically wins.
"If I get selected, then I'll be at the All-Star Game," Avila says. "If not, that's fine too."
Part of this season's success can be attributed to an offseason workout program in South Florida that Avila did with trainer Radhi Muhammad, often alongside teammates Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. The workouts focused on overall conditioning, to help Avila work through a full season of catching, which manager Jim Leyland called "the next test" for him.
"He's a smart guy, he's been in a baseball family for years and he's figured out how to manage his time a little bit better," Leyland said. "I think he's handled everything well, to be honest with you."
With the season more than a third of the way through, Avila has continued his conditioning drills, working out two or three times a week early in the morning at Comerica Park.
"It does get much tougher as the season goes on," Avila said. "There'll be times when you can't get in the weight room. And that's where your offseason conditioning becomes important."
Avila and Muhammad also worked on some explosiveness drills, helping Avila get a better first step. No doubt that helped Avila record his second and third triples of the season on Thursday -- which put Avila in the lead for triples by AL catchers.
Scherzer making 'minor' adjustments on mound
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer's slider hasn't been sliding as sharply lately, and the damage off of his pitches has correspondingly taken a sharp rise. The solution, Scherzer and the Tigers coaching staff hope, is pretty simple.
It wasn't for lack of searching.
"I tried to sit there [watching video] and find something," Scherzer said, "and I'm almost trying to create something."
What they found depends on who's watching.
"I didn't know what I was going to see," manager Jim Leyland said, "but I know what I saw. I thought I was going to see something, but I saw something else, and then I saw what I was looking for. So you could call this the old see-saw."
Bullpen coach Jeff Jones said the solution was a relatively minor mechanical issue that had Scherzer out in front on his pitches too much. It's a different problem than what bothered him last year and what he had to work to solve at the end of Spring Training.
"He hasn't been terrible," Jones said, "but he hasn't been himself. He feels like he's been a little bit off."
Scherzer characterized the adjustments as minor, and something he believes he solved in his side work. His scheduled start Saturday night against the Mariners will be a good first test.
Whether the issues were minor, the damage Scherzer has taken on over this past three starts has been significant -- 19 runs on 24 hits, including four home runs, over 13 2/3 innings in his last three starts.
He has always been a fly-ball pitcher, but his ratio of ground balls to fly balls has gotten out of whack, even for him. In his last three starts, he has had 12 ground balls, compared with 41 balls in the air, according to baseball-reference.com.
Perry doing well in Triple-A, but Tigers cautious
DETROIT -- The stats on Ryan Perry since his demotion to Triple-A Toledo are encouraging: 8 2/3 innings of two-run ball on six hits, with two walks and 11 strikeouts. That includes a mix of save chances and long relief situations.
The realistic approach from the Tigers, however, is that Perry's performance against Triple-A hitters doesn't necessarily prove how he'll fare against Major League hitters, who were shrugging off his pitches outside the strike zone rather than swinging.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland suggested it will not be a quick return for Perry.
"Sometimes out of necessity, you get antsy, and you end up bringing [pitchers] back too soon," Leyland said. "He needs to be down there pitching, and get himself in a better frame of mind. But I think you make a big mistake when you [rush players back]. Sometimes you can't help it, because you get in a desperate situation.
"The purpose of sending him out is to get him right, so when he does comes back, he stays here, where he belongs. So that's a tough one. He's doing good, but I don't think a couple outings in Triple-A necessarily says everything's OK. I think you have to be careful with that."
Thomas ready to begin rehab assignment
DETROIT -- Brad Thomas, who has been shelved for the past month with left elbow inflammation, will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo next week as he tries to work his way back into the Tigers bullpen.
Thomas was scheduled to throw to hitters on Friday, but a rainy afternoon pushed that back a day, along with the rest of his timetable. He was expected to join the Mud Hens on Tuesday and pitch an inning at Fifth Third Field, but that now might be pushed back a couple of days. The Hens are off next Wednesday before beginning a road trip in Louisville.
When Thomas does begin pitching, he's expected to pitch an inning in relief every other day. Once he closes in on a return to Detroit, the Tigers have a decision to make with their bullpen.
Tigers relief has thrived over the past few weeks, including rookie Charlie Furbush, who jumped from Toledo's rotation into long relief in Detroit once Thomas went on the 15-day DL in mid-May. It's conceivable the Tigers could try to find a way to fit both of them in the bullpen, with Thomas potentially taking more a traditional long relief role. Or the Tigers could send Furbush back to Toledo for more regular pitching work.
Inge's return timetable remains unknown
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he has not been in contact with third baseman Brandon Inge, who went on the 15-day disabled list last Friday after being diagnosed with mononucleosis. Leyland said head athletic trainer Kevin Rand talked with Inge by phone on Thursday.
Rand has declined to discuss Inge's situation, citing medical privacy laws regarding off-field medical situations. Leyland didn't have much information, either.
"Those are issues that just have to take care of themselves," Leyland said Friday afternoon.
Inge has not been seen or heard from in the Tigers clubhouse since the diagnosis, which is understandable given his situation. But it also suggests he isn't likely to be back in the immediate future. The case history with players who go on the DL with mono varies widely on how much time they miss, depending on the severity of the illness.
Magglio Ordonez homered for the first time in his Minor League rehab assignment Friday night, delivering a two-run shot in the third inning for Triple-A Toledo against Gwinnett. It was the second extra-base hit of the rehab stint for Ordonez, who also walked twice. He improved to 7-for-28 (.250) in eight games for the Mud Hens.
The Tigers used every position player on their roster Friday night, and were prepared to dip into their pitching staff for pinch-running help had Victor Martinez reached base as the potential tying run in the ninth.
"If Victor got on, I was actually pinch-running [Rick] Porcello," Leyland said. "He had his spikes on. The trainers got him loose. I hate to do it, but I was going to do it."
With Victor Martinez's two-run homer Friday, the first-year Tiger is batting .338 (44-for-130) with 13 doubles, four home runs and 24 RBIs over his last 36 games.
A year after converting his first 24 save chances as a Tiger, Jose Valverde is at it again. He's 16-for-16 in save chances after Thursday's save against the Mariners. Nobody in the Majors has more saves this year without blowing one. The only other closer in the big leagues with double-digit saves and none blown is Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan, who's 15-for-15 in his opportunities.
A memorial service for former Tigers great Jim Northrup, who passed away Wednesday, will take place at noon Wednesday at Elton Black and Son Funeral Home in Highland, Mich. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Trails Edge Camp, Camp Quality Michigan, or to Alma College.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Chris Vannini is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.