The Justin Verlander of 2018 is at the top of his game -- a World Series champion, married since November, soon to be a father and, at age 35, still able to rear back for 99 mph on the fiery fastball that helped him burst on the scene as one
The Justin Verlander of 2018 is at the top of his game -- a World Series champion, married since November, soon to be a father and, at age 35, still able to rear back for 99 mph on the fiery fastball that helped him burst on the scene as one of the elites of the sport more than a decade ago.
But as it turns out, Verlander's continued ageless dominance this season at the forefront of the best pitching staff in baseball was far from assured, as revealed in a feature by Bleacher Report, which documented Verlander's struggles with an elusive injury and depression, and the role that his wife, Kate Upton, played in saving his career.
"She was instrumental in me not ... like, jumping off a bridge," Verlander told Bleacher Report. "I was depressed and kind of just upset at the world and trying to hide my own [problems]."
After winning the American League Cy Young Award and AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2011 behind a league-best 24 wins, 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, Verlander exhibited a slow decline over the next three years, with a climbing ERA, worsening walk and hit numbers and diminished velocity on his fastball.
According to the article, Verlander -- usually not one to talk about injuries -- was pitching through arm pain in 2013 despite being named to the All-Star Game and recording his fifth straight 200-strikeout season. He injured his groin during the offseason and discovered that an undiagnosed core muscle injury had been putting increased stress on his hips, and the article explains how Upton provided companionship through Verlander's recovery.
Verlander continued to pitch through pain in 2014, in which he led the AL in earned runs allowed and posted the worst season of his career. He dealt with continued attention from the media and vitriol from fans -- and Upton was one of few in the world able to relate, based on her experience as a supermodel.
"I don't like to talk to people about being hurt," Verlander told Bleacher Report. "As athletes, you're not supposed to. It's an excuse ... But she was someone I could talk to. I mean, basically a therapist. ... Somebody I could trust with ... worries about my career. Worries about, 'Can I make it?' Worries about what I'm going through to get back."
The article explains that at Upton's suggestion, Verlander began to see a physical therapist, who turned the pitcher's attention to his lack of flexibility, which was stressing his entire body. Working with her, Verlander worked hard on his body and mechanics to spur his career renaissance.
It worked. Verlander finished second in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2016, was traded to the eventual World Series champion Astros in '17 and is posting career bests in ERA (2.19), strikeout rate (11.7 K/9) and walk rate (1.6 BB/9) in '18.
Do-Hyoung Park is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter at @dohyoungpark.