ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
LAKELAND, Fla. — The number most people associate with Justin Verlander is 20 — as in, will he reach 20 wins? On Wednesday, the focus was 30 — as in the 30th birthday of the Detroit Tigers' ace.
"I have a long time left," he said. "I don't even look at it as reaching the halfway mark. I've got a lot of pitches left in me, and I don't know what it's like to be 30 since I haven't done that yet."
The 2006 AL rookie of the year, and 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, finished his 20s with a 124-65 record and 3.40 ERA. He's won two AL pennants but fallen short of a World Series title each time.
Verlander can see himself pitching into his 40s. He's never sustained a serious arm injury and can still hit 100 mph on the radar.
"He's got a lot left in him, and I didn't know he was turning 30 until now," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Thirty doesn't matter if you've got the talent, and Verlander's got it."
Leyland's first memory of Verlander is from 2006, when he took over as Detroit's manager and saw a tall, gangly pitcher who had made his big league debut the previous summer.
"I saw that he could throw hard, but I didn't know anything about him," Leyland said. "I didn't know much about anyone on this team except that they hadn't been very good in a long time. Who could have known?"
In addition to going 24-5 two years ago, Verlander has compiled a 19-win season and two each of 18 and 17. He led the big leagues in strikeouts and innings in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Gearing up for what will be his sixth straight opening-day start, at Minnesota on April 1, Verlander threw batting practice to hitters Wednesday for the first time this year and is expected to start his first exhibition game Sunday against Philadelphia.
He is due $20 million in each of the next two seasons as part of an $80 million, five-year contract he agreed to in January 2010. Given Felix Hernandez's new $175 million, seven-year deal with Seattle, Verlander is likely to get a raise — especially if he becomes a free-agent after the 2014 World Series and allows high-revenue teams to bid.
"I like playing for this team," Verlander said. "Detroit is a great place to play, and I can see myself here for a long time."