Pass it on: Verlander mentoring Fulmer

Tigers' ace advising rookie on shoulder maintenance with innings limit looming

Pass it on: Verlander mentoring Fulmer

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander has been where Michael Fulmer is now.

A decade ago, Verlander was the rookie sensation in the Tigers' rotation, delivering like an ace every five games and pitching Detroit into contention. He was the youngster pitching beyond his previous innings level, trying to maintain not only his rotation spot but the quality pitching that got him there.

And as Fulmer heads into the home stretch of his incredible rookie campaign, leading American League pitchers in ERA, Verlander is right there with him, just as Kenny Rogers was for him. Verlander has been there ever since Spring Training, when he noticed the hard-throwing young right-hander with the big arm on the mound and his head buried in his locker in the Lakeland, Fla., clubhouse.

"That's why I talked to him when he got sent down in the spring," Verlander said. "He's going to go out there and attack. That's a great combination. You have that fire to be great and the ability to do it. You can bring a pitcher out of that."

When the Tigers called up Fulmer near the end of April, Fulmer pitched two games after Verlander in the rotation order. So when they faced the same opponent, Fulmer would study the way Verlander approached particular hitters, note what worked for him, then take that into his outing. By the first weekend in June, they were pitching back-to-back in the rotation, and the two would exchange ideas after games.

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Now in the home stretch, Verlander is staying out of the debate over how the Tigers should handle Fulmer's workload. Verlander stayed in the rotation in 2006, pitched every turn through Detroit's rotation from August 11 until the Tigers clinched a postseason berth with a week to go in the regular season.

What Verlander hopes to impart -- what he already has imparted, really -- is what he learned from that stretch run, when his velocity dropped and his damage increased until he was admittedly exhausted by the World Series.

"I got on him really early on about his routine and really focusing on that," Verlander said, "because I was hoping we'd be in the playoff hunt and I was hoping that he could help us. I remember for me, it was kind of a realization too late that I needed to work on it. And at that point, you can't make back up lost time."

Those lessons, Verlander said, involved shoulder maintenance and rookie stubbornness. He never battled fatigue in college or the Minor Leagues, so he didn't take between-starts maintenance seriously enough until he actually felt tired.

"Once we got to the halfway point, I realized I need to strengthen some stuff," Verlander said, "but it was too late. So I just labored through the second half and the playoffs. Really, that following offseason was when I really took to shoulder maintenance and shoulder strengthening and all the stuff that you're supposed to do, that I realized you need to do."

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Those lessons set up the meticulous offseason routines and in-season regimens that made Verlander an innings workhorse. He didn't want Fulmer to learn the hard way.

"I've talked to him bunch and just asked him how he's feeling, how he's recovering, and he seems to be doing well," Verlander said. "So I think he'll tell you what you need to know."

Verlander hopes he has told Fulmer what he needed to learn, not to mention words of wisdom and encouragement for fellow youngsters Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. He's the reigning veteran in a rotation that has three starters with less than a full season in the Majors.

Just don't call Verlander an elder statesman.

"I don't know if I'm any of that, man," he said. "But I help as much as I can."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. 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.