The potential of the Detroit Tigers No. 1, 2, and 3 pitchers is almost scary. However, that’s where the word “potential” comes into play. The staff, even ace Justin Verlander, the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, has been up-and-down during 2012.
But imagine a Tigers staff with Verlander pitching like he’s capable of: Purely dominant. Imagine Max Scherzer throwing like he did Sunday, tallying 12 strikeouts in a 5-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies. He hung a career-high 15 strikeouts May 20th during a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, clearly showing that he has the ability to dazzle.
What if Doug Fister hadn’t been placed on the disabled list? The Tigers’ No. 2 man was one of the most aggressive pitchers in the summer of 2011. Despite time away from his team this year, Fister came back with an economical six-strikeout, three-hit showing Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Rockies.
What if? What could be? That’s the question.
If “if” were true, the Tigers would have a nearly-unrivaled triple-threat. But that hasn’t been the case so far. Injuries and roller coaster pitching have taken away from Detroit’s otherwise potentially solid trio of top-end starters.
“Obviously, I think it’s been frustrating for everyone — the inconsistencies in our team — in all aspects of the game (things will get better) especially with Doug (Fister) starting to get healthy again and Max (Scherzer) pitching the way he has the last couple starts… ” Verlander said Monday at his sixth annual public meet-and-greet at Jim Waldron Buick-GMC in Davison. “I feel like I’m starting to pitch well, and you know, you got Ricky (Rick Porcello), too.
“You never know what you’re going to get out of a rookie, but I think Drew Smyly has done a great job… you know, kind of the unexpected factor.”
Verlander threw a one-hitter May 18 in a 6-0 triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 12 and coming within two outs of his third career no-hitter. He’s confident that his level of play will increase. And he says his teammates’ will continue to play well, too.
The Tigers were digging a deep hole, falling behind in the AL Central race. But three consecutive series wins is a positive sign for things to come. They’re now in third place at 32-34, just three games back of the division-leading Chicago White Sox (as of Monday night).
“I think you’re going to start to see us be a bit more consistent and get on a roll, which is how you win a lot of ball games,” Verlander said.
Having Fister back in the fold is “huge,” says Verlander, who owns a 6-4 record and 2.66 earned-run average. The return of Fister could bode well for the Tigers this summer. But, of course, that all depends on his ability to remain healthy.
“You talked about consistency, and it’s hard to be consistent when you don’t have your No. 2 starter in the rotation,” Verlander said. “To get him in there, and healthy, and just making his start every fifth game, I think that’s going to be huge for our ball club.”
Verlander said the season has “been tough,” and that he doesn’t think the Tigers are “where they want to be right now.” But he’s happy to see that players are returning to action, namely the likes of star centerfielder Austin Jackson.
In 2011, Verlander had arguably one of the most impressive seasons of any pitcher in MLB history. He won a league-high 24 games and was among league leaders in every pertinent pitching statistic. It would be easy to assume that he put a great deal of pressure on himself to perform this season.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
He’s taken a steady approach to his game, worrying less about numbers and more about being effective.
“No extra pressure, really,” Verlander said calmly. “The only pressure I put on myself was to become a better pitcher. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to have better numbers, per se. But I think there were some areas to improve upon and I’m always trying to do that.
“I think a good positive for me was that I started off the season better than I did last year — my April, I felt like I pitched much better. There’s still a long way to go yet. But I feel like, maybe without one start, that I’ve been pretty good.”
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