Gage: Minor setback aside, Verlander looks close to old self

Despite the home run he allowed to right in the second inning to Dalton Pompey, Justin Verlander looked like as close to being the old Verlander as he possibly can.

Jonathan Dyer

Dunedin, Fla. — Wouldn’t you know it?

On the day that Justin Verlander looked like himself again, saying it’s the best he has felt in two years, his start against the Toronto Blue Jays ended with an early exit.

Not because of ineffectiveness, though.

But because of a third-inning cramp in his right triceps that he hopes and believes — or believes and hopes, whichever fits — will be a minor setback.

So minor that he won’t have to miss his next start.

Such is the scenario the Tigers quickly added to their announcement of why Verlander was taken out of Friday’s game: That he isn’t expected to miss a start.

But until he doesn’t miss one, it ranks as nothing more than early optimism.

What was weird, however, is that you can probably count on one hand the number of times there’s been a confab at the mound about a Verlander arm issue.

Again, if a cramp is all it turns out to be, it won’t much of an issue. But the fact he came out of the game makes it one — until it no longer is one.

The visual was a distinct rarity, though. Verlander has had to summon pitching coach Jeff Jones to the mound so seldom in his time as a Tiger that in his attempt to do it subtly, he wasn’t very adept at it.

Staring into the dugout didn’t initially get it done. Jones thought Verlander might be seeking information about a hitter. It took a longer stare to eventually accomplish the mission.

And out Jones went.

From behind the plate, Alex Avila is usually quick on the uptake in such situations, but Avila started at first base in the 4-1 loss to the Jays, rain shortened to five innings, and wasn’t even aware there was a problem.

"I didn’t realize anything was going on until a crowd began to gather," said Avila.

So there they all were at the mound: Jones, manager Brad Ausmus, trainer Matt Rankin and Verlander. 

But except for a brief brush of the side of his arm with his hand, there was no hint of what troubled Verlander — or to what extent.

What was clear, though, is that until that point, he had to be pleased with how his day had gone.  

His velocity was up. His curve ball had sent Jays’ catcher Russell Martin back to the dugout following a head-shaking third strike.

And despite the home run he allowed to right in the second inning to Dalton Pompey, he looked like as close to being the old Verlander as he possibly can.

In fact, when Ausmus later said "it’s the best I’ve seen," he didn’t add the word "ever," but was quick to say "you can put an exclamation point on that."

That says a lot, because Ausmus isn’t an exclamation-point kind of manager. Verbal enthusiasm is not his thing.

"The best I’ve seen!", doesn’t look like a quote of his. But it was.

Overall, there was more to be encouraged about in Verlander’s outing than discouraged — despite the fact that no injury is minor until it proves to be.

Ask Jim Leyland about so-called "minor injuries." On second thought, don’t. You won’t get much of an answer.

Leyland wanted no part ever in the discussion of them — because after seeing so many minors become majors, he learned not to trust them.

To tell you the truth, no manager does.

But overriding the misfortune of having his day end early was the sudden promise of how Verlander felt while still in the game.

To hear him say, and to sound as if he meant it — that it was "the best my stuff has looked in a long time, a couple of years" makes you want to peer ahead to his next start.

First things first, though.

This cramp of his has to remain just a cramp and the consistency bug that has bitten Verlander so often in the past must be crushed — something that one good start can’t claim to accomplish.

He looked good, though. Indeed, he did.

Isn’t that enough to gnaw on for a while?

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