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Published: Tuesday, 6/22/2010

Tigers' ace Verlander used '08 struggles to get better

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT - Justin Verlander is the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter, start a World Series game, be a rookie of the year, and an all-star in his first two full seasons.

That doesn't mean he hasn't struggled.

The Detroit Tigers' right-hander had an off year in 2008, when his fastball didn't pop gloves quite as loud and hitters were spraying the ball all over the field.

He wound up a pedestrian 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA.

"My stuff went away for whatever reason, some mechanical issues," Verlander said before his scheduled start today on the road against the New York Mets. "Throughout that, I had to learn how to pitch a little bit to get guys out. I was able to take what I learned in '08 and move forward.

"That's what I think made me a better pitcher."

It certainly looks that way.

Verlander pitched 240 innings last season, the first Tiger to lead baseball in that category since 1983; won a career-high 19 games, the most by a Tiger since 1991; and had 269 strikeouts, the best single-season total in the league since 2000.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland puts Verlander in an elite class with Philadelphia's Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees.

"He's one of the horses," Leyland said. "If you look around the league, whether it's our league or the National League, the Halladays, the Sabathias, those guys are special. He's one of those guys."

The people cutting the checks for the Tigers agreed.

Detroit gave him a five-year, $80 million deal in February, keeping the player it drafted No. 2 overall in 2004 out of Old Dominion. Verlander said one of the luxuries from his contract is a new home in central Virginia.

Verlander enjoys golfing, playing poker, and vacationing in St. Martin when he's not pitching. When it's his turn in the rotation, he puts on his earphones and warms up with hip-hop and R&B music before shifting to hard rock as game time approaches.

It seems like his routine is working.

He ranks among league leaders with an 8-4 record and 85 strikeouts, including a season-high 11 last week against Washington.

"He's a classic No. 1 starter," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "The kind of guy you build a rotation around."



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