Verlander upbeat going into offseason

Verlander upbeat going into offseason

CHICAGO -- Justin Verlander's final pitch of 2015 was his 2,150th of the season. It was his 121st pitch on Saturday night, and his 12th pitch of the at-bat to former Tigers prospect turned White Sox catcher Rob Brantly with the go-ahead run on second base and two outs in the sixth. It wasn't a power fastball, but a slider that sent Brantly swinging and missing to end the threat and close Verlander's line.

He didn't get a decision, but with six quality innings and nine strikeouts, he finished out a statement he made on the mound for the past two months: Verlander is an ace once again.

"It was nice to go out there and pitch well," Verlander said. "I believe that in my heart, I'm not sure a lot of other people believed that I could regain form, but I never felt that. I did what I expected to do."

Situations like those often hurt Verlander last season, either by overthrowing a fastball and leaving it over the plate or by pitching around a batter. He got a large chunk of his velocity back this season, but with better command. Just as important, he got the secondary pitches down to where he can throw most of his pitches in any count he wants.

"He had great stuff," catcher Alex Avila said. "It was a tough day to play out there with those conditions, real tough to pitch, hit, catch, everything. We were trying to figure out how to attack the guys, but he had great stuff. He was able to locate where he needed to."

Verlander finished the season with a 5-8 record and 3.38 ERA in 20 starts. He went 5-5 with a 2.27 ERA over his final 14 starts, averaging seven innings per start. He allowed 74 hits over 99 1/3 innings, a .207 batting average, five home runs and a .548 OPS.

"All in all, after getting back in the groove, after being hurt, kind of a shortened Spring Training coming to the big leagues, it took a few starts for me to really rein it in, but from then on, I'm definitely pleased and optimistic heading into next year," Verlander said.

When asked about the most positive developments of a disappointing season, manager Brad Ausmus didn't hesitate.

"I think Verlander's last two months are one, for sure," he said.

Verlander will go into the offseason with that assurance that he's back. And with the Tigers out of the postseason, he will get a full offseason for the first time in five years. He doesn't expect it to change his offseason workout plan vastly, but Ausmus expects the extra time to help.

"I think [Miguel Cabrera] and Verlander will both benefit from a regular offseason," he said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.