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Q&A: Verlander always learning, adapting

New Astros starter bounced back from tough stretch in 2014-15
September 2, 2017

At 34 years old, but still feeling there is plenty of time left in his baseball career, Justin Verlander accepted a trade from the struggling Tigers to the American League West-leading Astros late Thursday night, putting him in position to be a part of the playoffs for the sixth time

At 34 years old, but still feeling there is plenty of time left in his baseball career, Justin Verlander accepted a trade from the struggling Tigers to the American League West-leading Astros late Thursday night, putting him in position to be a part of the playoffs for the sixth time in his career.
Verlander won the AL Cy Young Award in 2011, when he was a 24-game winner, and he has finished in the top seven in AL Cy Young Award voting five other times. He has compiled a 183-114 record over a 13-year career.
Verlander has come back strong after a two-season struggle from 2014-15, first dealing with core surgery prior to the '14 campaign and then having his '15 season delayed two months because of a strained triceps sustained in Spring Training.
Verlander acknowledged that those two seasons gave him time to reflect. He discusses life in his 30s in this week's Q&A. Have you reached a stage in your career where you feel the need to make adjustments to your pitching style?
Verlander: I think you make adjustments when it becomes necessary to. To this point in my career, some would say I was probably stubborn, probably three, four years ago. But when everybody was telling me, "Start sinking the ball," or do this or that, what most of those people didn't know is how unhealthy I was at the time. And I wholly believed that my fastball would come back when my health did. And the last couple of years, the fastball has been back where it needs to be. So as far as those types of pitching adjustments, I'm just going to continue to just to be the pitcher I am, which is rely on my fastball until it no longer works. I've made some other adjustments throughout my career. With the use of advanced statistics, you would be naïve to not look at some of that stuff and evaluate hitters, to make adjustments that way. When you weren't healthy, were you worried that the end could be near?
Verlander: Definitely. It was the first time since I picked up a baseball that I've really kind of seen the end and realized how fickle this game can be, because just everything hurts. I was taken out of a game in Pittsburgh, and after the first inning, [giving up five runs], throwing 96 miles an hour. They took me out of the game. That was the first time. [Tigers manager] Brad [Ausmus] and I got in a pretty big argument. I wanted to stay in the game. Obviously, something was wrong, and I really thought when I was going to get the MRI the next day that I was going to need surgery. Did you?
Verlander: Not on my arm. I eventually had core surgery, and that explained everything for me. After that night, I strained my groin, and when we were looking at the MRI for that, we saw that I needed core surgery on both sides. That just made sense for everything else going on with my arm. After that, the goal was to get my body back to being able to function the way it had in the past. It took a year and a half. I had to grind through another season of pitching without everything being right, but I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, knowing I would be able to be the pitcher I used to be. Before you knew about the core issues, were you concerned it could be the end?
Verlander: I was afforded a little bit of luxury, because I had made it long enough to have a long-term contract, but I've always been a guy who wanted to play until I can't pitch anymore. I was going to play until the wheels fall off. That was always longer than I'd always envisioned being [left] on my contract. All of a sudden, I'm looking at the end-of-the-road sign in my head. The fact you have made it back, does that give you more of an appreciation for the game?
Verlander: Definitely. I don't take health for granted, and I'm very much aware of my body now and keeping myself healthy. Before, it was kind of, "ignorance is bliss." I felt, "I've always been this healthy." And then, all of a sudden, you are thrust into not being healthy. I was just happy to come out on the other side of it with a lot of information and not having really hurt myself. Nolan Ryan talks about the importance of the legs for the health of the arm. That seems to fit in with the core issues you dealt with.
Verlander: The lower body is my main focus, and a lot of it has to do with Nolan. Nolan was my idol growing up. I read a lot and focused a lot on what he would say, and he was notoriously a lower-half guy. I took that to heart, and even still do. If you have the right type of mechanics, the energy doesn't come from your arm. The energy comes from your legs, through the body, the kinetic chain. And you can imagine how, if you have strong legs and a weak core, how that can mess up everything. In talking with scouts, they say you can start out a game at 92, 93 mph with your fastball, and all of a sudden, six or seven innings in, you are hitting 97. Is that part of the adjustment you've made?
Verlander: That is a lesson I learned in reverse. I was having a game in Boston where I look up and I think I had like 80 pitches in four innings. I knew I had to find a way to get deep in the game. So, I literally was doing batting practice [velocity] to try to hit my spots. Then all of a sudden, you get balls put in play, you trust your defense and get quick outs, and you go deeper in the game. So you still have that mindset to pitch deep in a game, not five or six innings?
Verlander: Sure, but it's out of my control. Unlike Nolan, I can't throw 200 pitches in a game. Can I? I think I can. Will they let me? Not a chance.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for