DETROIT — The All-Star Game and Justin Verlander had become a foregone conclusion. In recent years, the only question was whether or not he would start the Midsummer Classic.
However, even after getting his third consecutive quality start in Wednesday’s 9-3 victory over the Oakland A’s, Verlander was resigned to seeing his streak of five consecutive All-Star invitations end.
"I’m not going to go to the All-Star Game," said Verlander, "but it will be nice to get the time off and not tax my arm."
Verlander is 7-7 with a 4.71 ERA that’s a far cry from the 24-5 and 2.40 ERA he posted three years ago as the toast of baseball.
He has battled arm fatigue over his last three starts and his mechanics ever since his 2.67 ERA on May 9 began rising as surely as the corn in a farmer’s field.
But now he’s addressing all of that, and dealing with not being an All-Star.
"I’ll just relax," Verlander said of the four-day break beginning July 14. "I’m not sure where it will be."
He said he wished he didn’t have to think about what he will have to do with the free time. He’d rather be jumping on a plane for Minneapolis for the game at Target Field.
Tubing on the Au Sable River was suggested, and he smiled.
"Maybe hang-gliding," countered Verlander, while extending both arms over his head with a pretend grip on an imaginary hang-glider. Then he allowed that his contract wouldn’t permit that.
But he also allowed this: "Everything happens for a reason. Maybe it will help."
Verlander has thrown more pitches than anyone in baseball since his rookie season of 2006 with 30,916. Next up is Dan Haren with 28,767. And that’s just the regular season. He’s also pitched in two World Series and logged another 93 1/3 innings in the playoffs — which approaches nearly half of a full extra season.
He might be only 31, but doesn’t want his arm to turn 36 next month.
The release speed on his four-seam fastball has dropped from a 96.4 mph average in 2009 to 94.2 this season, according to Brooks Baseball. And the 100 mph heater he used to be able to dial up at any time is gone. He has not thrown one this year, and was happy just to hit 97 on Wednesday.
And so the Tigers are, for the first time, taking measures to cut down the number of pitches he throws.
Verlander this year topped out at 122 pitches on June 11, when he gave up seven runs at Chicago to the White Sox. He gave up seven runs again in his next start at home with the Kansas City Royals, and came out after 97 pitches.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus took him out after six innings in which he threw just 103 pitches on Wednesday, and Verlander said he did nothing to lobby for another inning. He’s buying into cutting it off at the century mark.
"Today was a grind," he allowed.
The heavy load has taken a toll. Verlander reached 120 pitches 10 times in 2011 and nine times in 2012. That dropped to four times in 2013, and he has two at the mid-way point this season.
He noted that the extra work put in on mechanics (four areas of his delivery remain off a bit in his estimation) also has taken a toll. While he believes that work was necessary, he’s going to cut back there, too, in order to conserve.
Cutting down on walks would go a long way toward achieving success and limiting pitch counts. Verlander walked 10 in the three horrible starts preceding the last three good starts, when he’s walked just two in 19 innings while striking out 20.
Verlander got himself into a pair of bases-loaded situations with two outs against Oakland. There were three infield hits, a bloop single, a hit batter and a double that put those runners aboard. But Verlander didn’t lose his focus and try to do too much in those situations. And the result was getting Stephen Vogt to ground out and end the rally in the third inning, and then getting Nick Punto to fly out and end the uprising in the sixth.
"He certainly has the knack of ratcheting up the velocity when he feels the game is on the line," Ausmus said. "He still has it in there. But, mechanically, it is not there all of the time."
So, two solo homers in the first inning to Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss were the only runs Verlander allowed.
Verlander leads all active pitchers with 75 home wins since 2005, but this was his first Comerica Park win after going 0-4 at home since April 22.
He did not realize it had been that long, but added, "It has happened before. I have won a game here. There is nothing to celebrate."
Verlander smiled while saying that, and closer Joe Nathan teased him about still conducting an interview session while the beginning of his Q&A was airing on FOX Sports Detroit via tape delay.
Verlander looked up at the clubhouse TV set and said, "(Blank)! I look good, too."
The two teammates laughed.
Despite what fans might think, it’s still good to be Justin Verlander — even if he’s no longer an All-Star. He’s not going into a shell — just trying to take the proper measures to assure he doesn’t become a shell of his former pitching self.