Baseball / Sports

Detroit Tigers' Jeff Jones: Justin Verlander's past two games 'very encouraging'

HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander's in-season overhaul is minor and major.

The changes he has made are described as minor by Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones.

But, as detailed by Verlander, they sound major.

"No pitch has felt completely normal, not yet," he said of the two starts since he implemented the changes. "I'm fighting bad habits, I think."

"Anytime a guy does something over and over and over -- 115 or 120 pitches in a game in J.V.'s case -- and you do something very, very minor, it's going to feel different," Jones said over the weekend. "It's going to feel uncomfortable for a while. Sometimes we might move a guy's arm 2 inches, and he'll say he feels like he's throwing sidearm."

Minor or major, the changes appear to be working.

In his recent seven-start skid before these changes, Verlander had 20 walks and 26 strikeouts.

In each of the two games since the changes, Verlander had one walk and eight strikeouts. "Very encouraging," Jones said.

Verlander hasn't won either game, but both were quality starts. He would have won the first, in Cleveland last weekend, if the Tigers had held a ninth-inning lead, and he could have won Friday night if Houston's Jose Altuve hadn't generated two runs with his flying feet.

"In the Cleveland game, I thought his command was a little bit better with his fastball," Jones said. "I thought (on Friday) he threw some great curveballs and sliders."

Two weeks ago Monday night against Kansas City, Verlander gave up seven runs and heard boos. His ERA for his past seven starts rose to 7.83. A crisis, a crossroads, or both.

The next day, Verlander met for about 20 minutes with Ausmus and Jones. The idea for his mechanical changes emerged -- what he calls the biggest in-season adjustments he has made. "This was something we had to do," Ausmus said.

The day of the meeting, Jones got to the park extra early to study tapes of Verlander past and present. Then all three watched the tapes -- "to figure out a couple of things that we can really stress and work on to get him throwing the ball the way he's capable of," Jones said.

"We really grinded over some video," Verlander said. "We found something to change. It's not easy, but I feel like the results have been much better. The swings, the strikeouts, seem definitely like the direction I want to go in."

The changes sound like a tune-up. It's not like Verlander turned into a side-armer or an off-speed artist.

"I feel like I'm still a power pitcher," he said Friday night. He doesn't sense that he's entering the post-fireballer stage that Tim Lincecum and Josh Beckett have come to enjoy, as shown by their respective no-hitters this season.

Jones said: "It's kind of like the basic stuff -- it's more of a balance thing than anything else, of trying to keep his arm in the right spot at the right time. It's always going to feel a little bit uncomfortable until muscle memory takes over, and then it becomes routine."

Verlander said: "It's just doing it the right way. Something that forces bad mechanics was trying to create and force velocity instead of letting it happen the right way."

Verlander has worked so hard on the changes that it affected his endurance Friday night. He typically is good for 120 pitches. Ausmus took him out after 105, and Verlander understood.

"I'm working on a lot of new stuff, throwing a lot on the side," Verlander said. "You don't want to really push it." He indicated he would now resume a more normal between-starts workload.

Perhaps Verlander's season can be summed up in an ancient truism: "Bad habits are easy to get into and hard to get out of. Good habits are hard to get into and easy to get out."

"Absolutely," Jones said. "I totally agree."

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