Verlander strives to improve every day
Coming off MVP, Cy Young season, hurler focused on improving
What's it like to face reigning American League Most Valuable Player Justin Verlander?
"The guy can pitch. He's not MVP, Cy Young for nothing," said manager Dusty Baker, whose Reds battled the Tigers right-hander to a 3-2 loss on Saturday night. "You see whenever he got into trouble, he dialed it up to 100 [mph]. He'd be 92-93 then reach back. That's what the great ones do. They always have something left. When you can add 7-8 miles per hour upon command, it shows what you really have inside."
Outfielder Jay Bruce, who had to stand in against that heat, agrees.
"That's one of the things that makes him who he is and what he is," Bruce said. "Any time you can cruise at 90 and get up to 101, it changes the game a little bit."
And what, one might wonder, is it like to be Justin Verlander? Who better to answer that question than, well, Justin Verlander?
"Well, there are ups and there are downs," Verlander said. "Obviously, I'm living my dream. I've wanted to play baseball from the time I was a little kid, and here I am doing it, so from that aspect it is great.
"The other aspect is that everything I do is scrutinized by everybody. If I have a bad game, everybody is telling me how bad I was, and if I have a good game, everybody is telling me how good I was. So, there are ups and downs. But for the most part, I could never complain because I'm doing what I always dreamed of."
Verlander discussed the most famous member of his pitching repertoire, the fastball.
"It's something not a lot of people can do, so it's a lot of fun for me to look up and see triple digits," Verlander said.
The Tigers' ace also spoke to the fact that he is labeled as one of the best pitchers in baseball.
"I've always wanted to be considered the best. I'm not saying I'm there yet, but to be considered one of the best is a feat in and of itself," Verlander said.
And, as Verlander well knows, being one of the best means facing some of the best. In Saturday's case, that meant matching wits with the Reds' Joey Votto.
"It's always a great challenge facing guys like that, especially Votto, a guy I had never seen before. Every lineup I pitch against, there is always someone who is a great hitter. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. It's always fun to face those really good hitters," Verlander said.
"I try not to get up [in the strike zone] for the battles against guys like Votto. I think, especially early in the game, you try not to do too much. I don't try to blow it by him. I just continue to try to pitch. I just try to get him out."
Another integral part of being Justin Verlander is being a role model to young pitchers everywhere.
"Being a role model kind of comes with the territory [of being a professional baseball player]. And I just try to set a good example, lead by example," explained Verlander.
The hurler said that his own role model was Nolan Ryan.
"Keep working hard. You don't have to be the best right away, and I wasn't," Verlander advises young pitchers. "I was middle of the pack early on and you never know when you are going to hit your peak. So keep working at it."
Verlander also had something to say about the adage that the pitcher gets "all of the glory or all of the blame."
"That's the way it should be," Verlander declared. "The game starts and ends with us. I think we have the most influence as to whether the game is won or lost."
Verlander, as he has been since his debut, was pursuing his ever-elusive first Major League hit Saturday.
The Interleague matchup against the Reds was one of his few chances to get it done, and Verlander in the third inning hit a hard line drive that looked as if it would do the trick. But, alas, Votto was there with a nice catch that robbed Verlander.
Later, Verlander laid down a well-executed bunt that had his heart racing.
"I thought I had a hit on that bunt. I don't know what kind of play he [Reds third baseman Todd Frazier] made on it, but I was running pretty hard. As soon as I saw the second baseman make the catch, I said, 'Why am I running so hard? This is the big leagues, they don't mess up sacrifice bunts,' " Verlander lamented.
Whether it's batting or pitching, though, Verlander assures fans that he is "constantly striving to do better."
"Hopefully, one day, when my career is over, they say I was one of the best while I played."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.