Verlander: “I’m ready to step on the gas”

Spring Training 036

For all official purposes, Thursday was reporting day for Tigers pitchers and catchers. For Justin Verlander, Thursday was his fourth bullpen session of the spring.

“I think that’s right about normal,” Verlander suggested. “I think traditionally I might have thrown a couple more in the past, but I know what I need to do to get ready, so I’ve toned it down just a little bit.”

Problem is, his past couple Spring Trainings have been anything but normal.

Two years ago, he spent camp working back from core muscle surgery, and he never found his form. He was healthy last spring, but building up strength in his shoulder. Just when he believed he had found his form in the final days of camp, he felt a triceps strain that cost him two months on the disabled list — and cost the Tigers pitching staff dearly.

He doesn’t want to look at last Spring Training as a bad thing, because that form he found at the end was the form he worked his way back to in late July to set up his late-season roll. At the same time, he says he feels stronger.

“Spring Training last year we talked about it and I felt pretty good, but obviously I had the injury at the end of spring,” he said. “But right now it feels the best I can remember in a long time. I’m able to throw every day. I’ve been long-tossing a lot, something that I wasn’t able to do the last few years just because [I’d] long-toss one day, come back the next time and [didn’t] feel too great. But I don’t even feel like I’m pushing it right now. It just naturally feels good. …

“Feeling like I pitched well last year, I think, went a long way for everybody about being excited for this upcoming season. It’s even better right now than it was last Spring Training. I’m ready to step on the gas. I’m ready to go.”

He’s strong enough to step on the gas, but after the last couple years, he’s wise enough to know better.

“I’ve always been a thrower. I like to throw,” he said. “I like to get the ball in my hand and just feel it, let it go if I feel good, so it’s not that I’m backing off the throttle. I’m just not stepping on it full bore. It’s just one of those things that I let my body tell me what I’m capable of doing and the biggest difference between now and the past is I’m pretty much able to do whatever I want.”

More from Verlander …

  • On 10 years since he made the Tigers rotation out of Spring Training:  “I mean, I was trying to make the team my first year, so it’s actually more than 10. But time flies. It’s funny looking back at it, being the longest tenured Tiger and some of the guys I played with then, this is going back a few years. That ’06 team, I’ve been the only one standing from that team for a few years now. It’s crazy to think that. You go back and just kind of run through some of the names. I played against Ausmus. I played against some of these guys. Craig [Monroe], he’s doing TV now. It’s kind of weird to think about that. But I don’t think that I’m the old guy. A couple years ago, I probably would have thought, yeah, the body’s starting to age on. Everybody says at 30 things change. And that kind of maybe got in my mind a little bit.  But it ended up not being that at all. It ended up being something that was out of my control.”
  • On being a veteran mentor to young pitchers like Daniel Norris: “I don’t think I think of it as a veteran mentor. I just think of it as I’ve got some knowledge, having pitched in this game for 10 years. And if anybody wants to talk to me about that or pick my brain about anything, I’m an open book. Anything that I see, hear, notice, I’m not afraid to talk to you about it. I’m not going to go out of my way necessarily to point out something that I don’t think you’re not necessarily doing right unless it’s something obvious. I mean, guys have a certain way they pitch. I have a certain way I pitch.  So I wouldn’t have wanted somebody to tell me otherwise, because, who knows, that might have had an effect on me in a negative way. But if something’s not working and they continue to try it, then you might step in. You have to be unbiased and see guys and if they want to come talk to me about anything I’ll chat with them as long as they want.”
  • On starting pitchers as team leaders: “A certain amount of respect goes into a veteran and why they are guys that are looked up to by the rookies, whether you’re on the field every day or not. But I think, baseball, whether you like it or not, is kind of cliquey. Starting pitchers tend to hang out with starting pitchers and position players tend to hang out [together] – not all the time, but you know when you go out to dinner, it’s usually, hey, I’ve got off, the other starting pitchers have off, those [position] guys have got to play tomorrow, so we’re probably going to go out to dinner. That’s just kind of the way it is. It works itself out the same way when we’re just having conversations because we tend to talk about pitching. If we’re sitting around the locker room, we’re probably going to be talking about pitching, scouting reports, how we approach guys, mechanics, whatever it may be. So starting pitchers and catchers, you’ll see kind of huddle around each other and just chat about that stuff.”
  • On new pitching coach Rich Dubee: “It’s going to be different. Thankfully I’ve always been somebody that can talk with guys and try different things. And if it works, great. If not, it doesn’t, and move on. And I think that’s what you need to be able to do when you bring in somebody new, because he’s going to have his own ideas, he’s going to have his own thoughts. And they can work for you, as long as you’re not close-minded, which I’m not. I’m able to listen and try anything. But you also have to understand if it’s going to work for you or if it’s not. I think you have to realize that kind of in a hurry, especially once you start the spring, tinker with things, try things, either keep them and keep trying to work on it or realize that hey this is not for me and move on from that. I’ve been able to do that all the way from Chuck Hernandez through Jeff [Jones] and now Dubs. We’ll see. I’m excited to talk to him.”
  • On new pitches: “I can’t tell you that. … Because then you’ll write about it the first time I throw anything different. Just like when I first started throwing the slider, I didn’t tell anybody about that. But no, I’m not throwing a split right now, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

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RIP Tony “The Tiger” Phillips. During my first visit to Lakeland in 1994, I found Tony at a backstop on a deserted back field as he practiced his bunting with a pitching coach. His mouth went a VERY colorful mile a minute and I just leaned up against the screen and watched for about a half hour, very entertained. At one point I said something, don’t remember what, and he turned with a big smile and rattled off something so fast that I couldn’t even understand him. Something like “Buntin’ like a *^#@&*! an’ flinchin’ like a ^&*!#!&*!
Big personality. Fun.

Will miss Tony Phillips, his attitude at bat, and those sunflower seeds flying everywhere.

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