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Tigers’ Verlander goes from great to mediocre

By John Perrotto

Sports Xchange

The way Danny Salazar cut through the Detroit Tigers’ lineup on Wednesday night made it easy to compare him with the pitcher who was on the losing end of the 7-0 score.

The Cleveland Indians right-hander was reminiscent of Justin Verlander, at least when the right-hander was one of the best pitchers in baseball and so good that he won both the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards in 2011.

However, that version of Verlander seems gone forever.

He is 12-12 with a 4.80 ERA in 28 starts and, if he name wasn’t Justin Verlander and he did not a hefty contract, would be considered the Tigers’ No. 4 starter behind Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello — No. 5 if Anibal Sanchez were healthy.

“He still has good stuff,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said after Wednesday’s game. “He pitched better than the number of runs he allowed.”

Verlander allowed seven runs, six of which were earned, and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Yet while a couple of balls snuck through the infield for hits, 11 of the 29 batters who faced Verlander hit the ball hard.

It was not the type of performance expected of a pitcher with a $20 million salary facing a fellow contending team in September.

“This pretty much is what he is now,” said a scout from American League team who was at the game. “His stuff is still good from time to time, but it’s not as consistently good as it used to be. He can’t overpower teams anymore for seven or eight innings. You see that flashes but just flashes.”

Verlander has made 16 quality starts this season — at least six innings with three earned runs or less — but has rarely been dominant. When he held the White Sox to one run in seven innings last Friday night in a win at Chicago, it marked the first time Verlander gave up less than two runs in a start.

Reasons abound why the 31-year-old is no longer overpower dominant, ranging from his age to his romance with supermodel Kate Upton being a distraction to being burned out physically.

The most logical answer is overuse.

He has thrown 31,916 regular-season pitches since his rookie season of 2006 and averages 109.3 per start, the highest figures of any major league pitcher during that period. He has also made 15 postseason starts covering 93 1/3 innings.

Verlander left his Aug. 11 start at Pittsburgh after one inning — the shortest of his career — because of shoulder soreness. He took 12 days off between starts and says the break helped.

“I feel a lot stronger now,” he said. “I’m getting better every time out. It makes a difference when you feel good and I feel better than I did.”

Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t.

If the rest had some kind of supernatural healing powers, then Verlander gives the Tigers a third No. 1 starter to go with Scherzer and Price.

Watching Verlander pitch Wednesday made it seem highly unlikely.