Verlander wastes no time getting into form
Right-hander mixes pitches, throws slider in spring debut
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander began his 12th Major League season trying to figure out when he was supposed to hit the field.
His first Spring Training outing of the year Saturday against the Astros was a 1:05 p.m. ET start, same as nearly all the other starts he has made at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium over the years. He's one of the most routine-oriented players in baseball, to the point where even a couple minutes' delay can throw him off his habits.
And yet, he had a brain malfunction.
"I had to ask [pitching coach Rich] Dubee," Verlander said. "I've taken the field at the same time every year. I just forget. I've got it down to a science. I just need to remember the equation."
He found his routine soon enough. And with two scoreless innings along with his full arsenal of pitches Saturday during an 11-4 win, he hopes he will find his top form earlier in spring than he did in 2016.
Though the stadium radar gun wasn't on, the radar gun the Tigers had going behind the plate clocked Verlander's fastball at 92-95 mph, hitting top speed in the second inning on his way to back-to-back strikeouts. He was dropping curveballs on Astros hitters in the opening inning, and threw several changeups in a row to open the second. He even threw the slider, something that would normally wait until later in camp.
"There's just kind of some points of emphasis," Verlander said. "I know I'll throw enough fastballs to get that kind of dialed in, just through the natural process of pitching. I feel like spinning some stuff, throwing some stuff when you otherwise necessarily wouldn't, just getting a feel for it, that [will] I think speed up the process of getting a feel for those other pitches. That was the first time I've thrown the slider today. It was a little flat, but the speed was right."
Verlander isn't in a patient mode this spring. He's coming off a 2016 season in which he came within a couple votes of his second American League Cy Young award, but he struggled into June on his way there. This year, he wants to be on from the start.
To that end, he tinkered with his offseason workouts and looked into the weighted-ball throwing exercise that younger pitchers have adopted. He researched it heavily, talked with doctors and trainers, and even then only tried it out, making a handful of throws at different weights before going into his normal routine.
"Nothing crazy, just slightly overweighted, slightly underweighted," he said. "I did a lot of research on that this offseason because obviously last year taking until early June to really get going, that's a bit too long."
His early results, albeit two innings, were impressive. His lone base hit allowed was a comebacker that skipped off his glove.
"I don't want to throw a parade," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But it was certainly the best first outing I've seen out of him since I've been here."