Older, wiser Verlander reflects, looks ahead

Entering second decade in rotation, Tigers righty not feeling his age

Older, wiser Verlander reflects, looks ahead

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander doesn't feel the years.

As he stood Thursday on the back fields where he was fighting for a rotation spot a decade ago, he smiled at the memory.

Tigers' Spring Training info

"I mean, I was trying to make the team my first year [in camp]," he said, "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. …

"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 [now-manager Brad] Ausmus. 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."

Two years ago, Verlander -- who turns 33 on Saturday -- came to Spring Training off core muscle surgery and never found his form. Last spring, he strengthened his shoulder, refined his delivery, and seemingly found his old stuff near the end, hitting 97 mph in his final Spring Training tuneup. Just as he felt like he was back, he was shelved by a triceps strain that cost him two months on the disabled list and turned midseason into Spring Training again for him.

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This spring feels different. It feels normal -- not by recent standards, but by those younger ones.

While Thursday was officially reporting day for Tigers pitchers and catchers, it was the fourth mound session of the spring for Verlander. As he went through his delivery and unleashed 50 pitches to catcher James McCann, he was critiquing himself without cursing himself.

He feels good. He knows he can be better, but he certainly knows from the last couple of years he could be worse.

"It feels like it used to feel," he said. "You know, normal hasn't really been the status quo here for the past few years, but I feel great. It's a lot of fun being able to go through my normal routine, long-toss when I want, get off the mound when I need to, without any issues. …

"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 feels good enough to hit the gas. He's old enough to know better. Even if he doesn't feel older, he's wiser.

"I've talked to you guys about that: I've always been a thrower," he said. "I like to throw. 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."

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.