Right-hander says he has something to prove, believes offseason program will help
By Jason Beck
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander came to camp with a healthy arm, his shoulder issues last season put behind him. He also arrived with a bulked-up body, having put on 25 pounds with a full offseason of lifting.
"I just lost a lot of weight last year," he said Wednesday. "I think that was the lightest I had been in years. After surgery I got on the scale and I was like 210. I'm 237 right now."
He also came in with a chip on his shoulder. After last season's struggles, Verlander has to something to prove. The question from a reporter wasn't even finished when he answered that.
"Yes," he said. He's looking forward to the chance to prove people wrong.
When Tigers pitchers and catchers have their first formal workout on Friday, Verlander will be celebrating his 32nd birthday. He'll also be starting his 10th Major League season, not including the two spot starts he pitched as a first-year pro in 2005. This should start the second half of his career, if he wasn't already in it.
Verlander has had the talk with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and pitching coach Jeff Jones about adjusting his mix of pitches and his approach to hitters, possibly adding a different pitch to his arsenal.
Before that, he said, he wants to see what he's got first.
"I think it's a little unfair to judge on last season," he said. "I think it's a different story if I go out there this year and it's the same thing, then definitely some adjusting. And I think I'll start to figure that out pretty early on. But I'm not going to judge changing my entire career based on an injury that plagued me last year. I don't think that's the right way to approach things. I think it's [a matter of being able to] adjust on the fly, see where it takes [me]. I've been tinkering with some things and I can make adjustments if need be."
That does not mean he'll try to throw 99 mph this spring. The Tigers certainly hope not. What it means is that he wants to see where his pitches are after a full healthy offseason of workouts.
He didn't throw his first bullpen session last spring until after pitchers and catchers had reported. This spring, he has thrown several already, most recently Monday.
"They've gone really well, felt good," he said. "Arm feels great. Obviously way ahead of the curve, especially as opposed to last year. But everything seems crisper. It just seems like more quality pitches."
The most marked difference, he said, has been the curveball, two problems that left him vulnerable to right-handed hitters last year. He says it has a sharper break, though the bigger test will be when hitters step in the box next week.
He'll start throwing sliders soon, and the fastball will crank up when games begin. How the mix goes against hitters who are getting ready themselves will be a sign, not necessarily the sign.
"Looking back at [last year], it just wasn't good. I wasn't right," Verlander said. "It wasn't me, and hopefully the work I did this year not only working out but the physical therapist all offseason can get me back to where I need to be."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.