Justin Verlander has endured a season of extreme adversity. He's battled control, high pitch counts, mechanical flaws, and a hand-wringing fan base, some of whom are panicking about his contract, and some that want to banish him to the bullpen for the playoffs. Such fans are harboring foolhardy notions.
If anything, Justin Verlander has recently shown me that this season has taken him to a whole new level. How is that possible, when his numbers are way off his Cy Young/MVP performances? The way the Justin has responded to the very difficult time he's had on the mound this year is what convinces me that he could have a career best year next season.
Last night, Jim Price saw Verlander struggling early on in the game, and commented that he saw negative body language from Justin. He talked about the doubts that begin to creep into a players mind when difficulties are protracted. This is true, and we've seen mental meltdowns that rival nuclear disasters. However, I've seen that JV is not giving in to the stress or the pressure. He's got the mental toughness that Kirk Gibson cherishes. Dare I call it grit? Whatever the descriptor, it's obvious he will not shy away from leverage situations, nor wilt when things are no longer smooth sailing.
There are two starts in recent weeks in which Verlander has started out very rough, and in both he wound up staying in the game through seven innings, limiting the damage. The first was last night, when his control was way off, and he didn't have all of his pitches working for him. Early on, it looked like he might not complete five innings. Verlander has shown the ability to battle through and give the team a chance to win the game, all while not overtaxing the bullpen. In my view he has matured exponentially this year, and it can only lead to good things. I don't know how long it will take, but look for him to bounce back next season, if not sooner.
So, yes, I want JV on the hill as a starter in the playoffs, and yes, I still consider him an ace. Some may look back on this season as a low spot in his career, especially when stacked against other starters on this talented club, such as Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom are outshining him. I don't view it that way at all. This season may serve as a stepping stone to an even higher plane for a pitcher that has already been very dominant. I anticipate a return to the days that we practically expect a no-hitter from him any given start.