Saturday, June 13, 2015

Justin Verlander. Jury's out

The Detroit Tiger ace of recent years seems to be at a crossroads. Once upon a time Verlander was amongst the most dominant pitchers in the game. He won the Cy Young Award and even had a breakfast cereal (Fastball Flakes) named after him.

His "stuff" on the mound was incredible. Besides being able to throw 100 MPH heat, he had a curve, a slider, and had mastered the split-fingered pitch (basically a change-up that "drops off the table"). And his control of all his pitches was excellent. JV could throw it where he wanted to. Along the way he racked up the wins, strike-outs and other gaudy stats.

But then two things happened. Last year, while apparently healthy, Verlander turned in a season that could be described as journeyman-ish. He lost almost as many games as he won. That seemed odd, given he was only 31 years old at the time. One would think a pitcher would be peaking at that age rather than suffering a serious downturn in his effectiveness. Especially someone like Verlander who, besides his phenomenal pitching skills, had a will to win unmatched by most. The fire burned within. JV would do whatever it took for his team to prevail when he was on the mound.

Then 2015 rolled around and Verlander had a mysterious arm ailment. Though he and the team pooh-poohed it as nothing serious at the time, obviously there was a bit more to it. A pitcher, particularly of JV's caliber, doesn't miss the first two and a half months of the season over a scratch or a bruise. Something was definitely wrong.

So Verlander quietly disappeared, while likely huddling up with the doctors and rehab specialists to plan a course of treatment that would get him back to the Tigers as soon as possible.

Of course, when such injuries occur, even after a player has been finally cleared as fully healthy, they don't just jump back into the major leagues. Typically they'll play a few games at the AAA minor league level to get back up to speed before facing the big boys again.

Verlander did, but he was underwhelming even in his minor league outings. But hey, the Tigers aren't paying JV $28,000,000 guaranteed this year just so he can pitch in Toledo. If he's good-to-go, they want some return on their money at Comerica Park. Put him out there and let's rock.

Earlier tonight, the Tigers did just that against the Cleveland Indians. Verlander finally made his first big league start. His stat line wasn't too shabby. A few hits, a couple runs, a strike-out and a walk. But what the stats don't show is Verlander was hardly impressive. The Tribe batters were hitting the ball hard and often against him. To their credit, the Tigers' defense made some sparkling plays in the field to turn several would-be big hits into outs, else JV's stat line would have looked a little different.

Once the proverbial work-horse, Verlander appeared to be gassed after about 5 innings. There are those that would say he needs time to get his stamina back, and that point is noted. But it could also be argued he's had two and a half months of rehab to work through something that was supposed to be "minor" in the first place and a couple recent starts at the AAA level to boot. So how long will it take before he's supposedly "in shape" again? Another month? Two? And let's face it, it's not like Verlander has to work on other facets of playing baseball. He doesn't have to hit, field an every day position and, for that matter, only actually participates every 5th or 6th day anyway. The dude's raking in a million bucks a week whether he works or not. How outrageous is that? Do the math. Verlander's making over $5000 an hour, every hour of every day, 24/7. Guaranteed.

Now 32, it will be interesting to see if Justin Verlander can ever regain his once dominant form. The medical experts say he's OK. JV says he's OK, and the Tigers better hope he's not only OK, but has several more thousand quality pitches left in his precious right arm.

Because if not, they're on the hook for some serious dough. JV gets another $28 million next year. And in 2017. And in 2018. And in 2019. It drops down to a "paltry" $22 million in 2020. All guaranteed money.

Here's wishing the Fastball Flakes man the best, but if he crashes and burns in the near future -- definitely possible given the trend of his last year and a half of production or lack thereof.......

Let's just say the current jury remains out.

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