Most consecutive starts of six-plus innings*
Steady as he goes
But beyond the more touted triumphs is the simple satisfaction that -- for nearly two years now -- Verlander has done everything within the realm of reason to give the Tigers a chance to win a ballgame every fifth day. Only nine times during his 52-start streak has he failed to produce a quality start (three earned runs allowed or fewer in at least six innings)."I guess you could say it's rewarding for all the hard work I've put in," Verlander said. "But that's what you want. You want to be able to give your bullpen a little rest and be a workhorse. I guess that's just a testament to doing that." Verlander has become more of a workhorse on an almost annual basis. His innings-per-outing from his rookie year in 2006 to the current season read as follows: 6.20, 6.30, 6.09, 6.86, 6.80, 7.38, 7.53. He's achieved this ascension by becoming more efficient. I remember a conversation I had with a scout last summer who noted that a young Verlander, so blessed with superior stuff, liked to toy with hitters, sometimes to his detriment. "If he threw a curveball and didn't like the way it came out of his hand," the scout said, "it seemed like he'd throw another one to get it right, rather than thinking about the fact that a hitter was in the box." What we've seen these last two years is a firmer focus from batter to batter, inning to inning, start to start. And what's amazing about Verlander is how he's able to corral his villainous velocity early in his outings so that he still has another gear to go to late. He is routinely hitting 97 mph with his fastball in the eighth inning, his highest velocity average of any inning, according to BrooksBaseball.net. "I've been able to do that as long as I can remember," Verlander said with a shrug. "I don't know why." In his last start against the Indians, Verlander's fastball was clocked at 102 mph in the eighth. It was as dominant an inning as you'll ever see, and Jim Leyland said afterward that it was the best inning he'd ever seen pitched. "He was throwing as hard as any closer in the league," Tribe manager Manny Acta said. "Amazing." When it was suggested to Verlander that he seems to have a closer's mentality when he gets deep into games, directly challenging the opposition with the hard heat, daring them to catch up to it, he agreed. "I can see that," he said. "I think my mentality definitely changes as the game goes on." And his hunger to go deep into games has definitely evolved over time, to the point where not even his dream season of 2011 is deemed sufficient success. "He's intense," Jones said. "He's a great competitor. He wants to be the best at everything he does." Right now, there's nobody doing it better than Justin Verlander.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.