What to make of Verlander

The day after Justin Verlander struggled on Opening Day, manager Jim Leyland talked about him needing to pitch at less than maximum effort.

“He’s probably better off if he pitches at 92-93 [mph], maybe 94, than
trying to pitch at 96,” Leyland said Tuesday, “because it’s max effort, and I
think his ball moves good. In those [Spring Training] games at Atlanta,
he wasn’t throwing that hard until he needed it. … With the way he
pitches, the assortment he’s got, he doesn’t have to pitch [at] max
effort, in my opinion.”

On Saturday, Verlander’s velocity were actually higher than on Opening Day, including several 98 mph pitches in his fifth and final inning. His pitch count was high even before errors from Brandon Inge and Adam Everett extended his inning by three batters and eight pitches. He walked four Rangers in his five innings, including back-to-back batters after retiring his first two hitters in the second inning, extending it to a 21-pitch inning.

From that standpoint, it didn’t look like much change at all. However, Leyland considered it progress because the effort level was lower.

“It was pretty effortless today,” Verlander said. “I feel like some of the adjustments I’ve been making are really starting to show. Ever since I lowered my arm angle just a little bit, I feel a click, you could say. I kind of got back to what I feel like is my old slot. Why I got out of it, we talked about that before, but who cares, as long as I get it back.”

One of the reasons Leyland talked about max effort was the challenge of going through an entire outing throwing that hard. Verlander felt comfortable enough, he said, that he could pitch at that level an entire game.

“Today maybe 10 pitches were max effort,” Verlander said. “I noticed a couple of them, just good, clean mechanics, not trying to overthrow, just trying to make a quality pitch, and I looked back and saw 96-97. That’s what I worked on getting back to.”

One big difference today was that his fastball was tempting enough to send Rangers hitters swinging and missing. They never seemed to adjust to the high fastball, not even by the time Fernando Rodney entered in the ninth and struck out the side in order.

Does it mean anything going forward? We’ll see. Leyland liked what he saw.

“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” Leyland said. “He’s getting better all the time. He’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to have a big year for us, and he was very, very good today.”

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