ST. PETERSBURG — I touched on this a little bit in last night’s game story, but let’s rehash just how much work — good work — Justin Verlander has put in this season, shall we?
After his eight-inning, one-run gem on Friday night, Verlander is now sixth in the Major Leagues in innings pitched (197), is tied for first in starts (29) and has cranked out a triple-digit pitch count in 24 of his 29 starts this season — with 15 being for 115-plus pitches.
The 26-year-old right-hander needs just five more innings to notch a career-high in innings pitched (his high-water mark is the 201 2/3 he pitched in 2007), and he’s scheduled to make at least five more starts before the regular season comes to an end.
Considering he’s averaging about seven innings per start (6.79, to be exact), Verlander’s innings total by the time the season comes to an end projects to be at 232.
And let’s not forget he’ll be counted on to be a huge factor in the postseason, too.
The Tigers currently have six potential starters, and if their six-game lead in the division continues to grow and they clinch early, perhaps they can shut down Verlander early, too. But that has yet to be decided.
When asked if he’s worried about Verlander’s fatigue and pitch count, Leyland said, “Sure. Yeah, I am.” But Verlander, who owns a career 4.44 ERA in September/October, didn’t come off as concerned.
“I feel fine,” Verlander said Friday night. “I said before, I consider myself an old school-type pitcher. The guys in the old days used to throw a lot more pitches than I’ve thrown now, and they used to be fine with it. I think it’s what you condition yourself for, and I think this whole year, I’ve conditioned myself to throw in excess of 100 and still be strong.”
On Friday, after giving up his only run in the second, Verlander retired 14 of 15 batters and 10 in a row at one point, finishing with his 16th win (tied for the American League lead) after scattering four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.
In seven starts since Aug. 1, Verlander’s ERA is 3.66. And what’s impressed Leyland is his consistency, saying, “If you’ve looked at a few of his outings, they almost clone one another.”
Verlander has a chance to notch 20 wins for the first time in his career, and he’s making his case to take home his first AL Cy Young Award, too.
On top of being tied for the league lead in wins with CC Sabathia, he’s fifth in ERA, first in strikeouts and tied for fourth with three complete games.
Despite that workload, could he be getting better as the season gets older?
“He’s probably at his best right now,” Verlander’s catcher, Gerald Laird, said. “He’s just going out there determined — you can see it in his eyes. Every outing, you know what you’re going to get. He’s definitely turned the corner here.”
– Alden Gonzalez