Verlander strives to live up to expectations

DETROIT — Everyone still worried or even panicking about Justin Verlander can stand down for now.

Verlander nearly no-hit a Texas Rangers team in the top five in the American League in batting without having his best stuff Sunday.

Verlander improved to 10-6 with a 3.50 ERA as the Tigers (52-42) defeated the Rangers (54-41), 5-0.

Just for comparison’s sake, Verlander was 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA before the All-Star break last year.

“I think he’s been a very good major league pitcher that has expectations that are almost impossible to live up to,” manager Jim Leyland said.

Those impossible standards were set in 2011, the year Verlander won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards. But those numbers are a career year for a pitcher who could go to the Hall of Fame, not a typical year for him — or for anyone.  

Before the break that season, Verlander was 12-4 with a 2.15 ERA.

Verlander knows he set the bar pretty high for himself. But he can deal with the expectations.

“This first half? I haven’t (lived up to it), obviously,” Verlander said. “Nobody can set standards higher than I do for myself. I expect the best out of me every time I go out there. If that’s impossible or not, who knows? I expect the best.

“I consider the first half a grind and a battle for me personally, but hey, you look up at the end of the first half and I was able to battle to some pretty good numbers so considering it was a battle, not where I would have liked to be but hey, just keep working at it and hopefully the second half things fall into place and things start clicking right and then who knows where you’re going to end up?”

Verlander went through the opposite of 2011 in 2008, when the Tigers were expected to dominate the Central Division and ended up finishing last.

That season, Verlander finished 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA, the worst of his career.

“’08 was obviously the toughest year I’ve had,” Verlander said. “But I’ve learned a lot since then. I could actually say the battle’s kind of similar, it’s just I’m a much more mature pitcher than I was back then and able to deal with it much better.”

Verlander is also better able to deal with other challenges, like the tight right quad muscle that forced him out of Sunday’s game after seven innings and 105 pitches. He first noticed it in the fifth inning.

“It wasn’t like a big issue, it just started to get tight,” Verlander said. “I noticed that from my last start, my legs were a little fatigued and I think that just kind of carried over with the short rest in a day game and it was hot.

“So it just kind of started to nag at me a little bit. I could have gone back out, but after seven and 105, we had a five-run lead, there was no need to push it right now.”

However, the ultra-competitive Verlander would definitely have gone back out despite the quad if Mitch Moreland hadn’t hit the double with two outs in the seventh inning.

“I probably would have let him try to get it,” Leyland said. “Unless it was something where it became worse. I’d have given him a shot.”

But Leyland did not have to make the decision that San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy had to make with Tim Lincecum, who threw a career-high 148 pitches in his no-hitter against the San Diego Padres Saturday night.

The other thing that fans have been concerned about when it came to Verlander is his velocity, perceived to be somewhat reduced this season.

But Leyland made a point of saying the Comerica Park radar gun has been off this year and will be adjusted for the second half.

Needless to say, that’s something Verlander knew about.

“I know the other night it was way off,” Verlander said. “My start a few nights ago, I think somebody told me that the pitch to (Chicago’s Adam) Dunn that he hit for a homer registered at 94 and the scouts had it at 99.

“I’d like to get it right, if we can. That’d be nice.”

It would also be nice if Verlander could get his ERA back in the mid-2 range where it’s been the last couple of years and the Tigers could win the Central going away rather than needing every last game to make it.

Verlander thinks both are possible.

“Just knowing me and the will to get things right and not just be OK with OK numbers for me,” Verlander said. “There’s always that desire to be the best and that’s not going to change.”

As for the team?

“I think we’re really going to show what we can do this second half and hopefully finish off what we weren’t able to last year,” Verlander said. “Obviously, that’s looking way in advance.”