Justin Verlander knows his numbers from yesterday's game stunk, but would like us to remain calm. He assures us all is well.
That's not an easy claim to accept when you look at yesterday's boxscore. In two innings of work, Verlander gave up four runs (two earned) on three hits. And most troubling were his four walks.
All part of the plan, according to pitcher and manager.
Verlander's trying to iron out his mechanics, in particular, a tendency to plant down hard on his left leg after he throws a pitch. (Big League Stew demonstrates it with game photos from yesterday.) This causes his pitches to sail upward because he's not pushing down in his motion. Tigers coaches are trying to get him to land softer, more on his toes with a bend in his knee, to help him push downward.
It's the same sort of mechanical flaw that plagued Gil Meche of the Royals during the past couple of seasons. Once a softer landing became habitual, Meche's overall numbers improved. But breaking old habits (especially ones you may not have realized you were doing) and trying to learn new ones isn't often an easy process. And Verlander would like you to know that's what he's going through right now.
"There were a lot of walks," Verlander said, "but in between, there were a lot of pitches that I'm really the only one that knows how they felt. I think the way the ball was coming out of my hand was probably the best it's come out in a year or so. I felt like it was jumping out pretty good."
Lynn Henning mentioned on his blog that Verlander was throwing hard yesterday, in the high-90s. So the stuff is there. (Or back, if you think he lost some of it last year.) And Jim Leyland tried to tamp down any concern by saying he wasn't worried about yesterday's numbers because he knows what Verlander was trying to work on.
That's probably something worth considering as we inch closer to the regular season, and begin to look for improvement out of each pitcher who underperformed last season. We don't necessarily know what these guys are working on, what they're told to do out there, instead of solely concentrating on getting batters out. Of course, that's not to say that we shouldn't tug on our hair as Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson struggle, because there seem to be legitimate concerns there. (And the Tigers coaches aren't doing much to quell those fears.)
But let's see how Verlander's looking in another week or two. If he's still posting crooked numbers in his pitching line by then, and there's not much time left in the Spring Training schedule, perhaps that concern level should be nudged up a bit.