For Verlander, expecting perfection the norm

For Verlander, expecting perfection the norm

For Verlander, expecting perfection the norm
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander expects to throw a no-hitter every time he takes the mound.

No, really, he does.

"That's the expectation I hold myself to," Verlander -- who came within five outs of a no-no in Tuesday's 4-0 win over the Indians -- said with a smile, "so maybe you guys will start holding me to those expectations as well."

He'll deal with imperfection when he gets to it.

"Starting in the first inning, I think that should be everybody's [goal]," he said. "If you ever plan on giving up a hit, I think you're already beat. That's the wrong mentality."

Undoubtedly, there are many pitchers around the league who can say it. Very few can mean it the way he does.

"Why not?" he said. "I think they should. I think ... everybody's stuff is good enough at this level to do that. You just have to believe in yourself."

But there might not be anybody else in baseball with the stuff to create that belief.

In Verlander's mind, baseball is a pitcher's game. He is a perfectionist. The more he pitches the way he did on Tuesday, the more that word takes on another meaning when he takes the mound.

The more he pitches like this, the more people in Detroit are coming around to his line of thinking.

Rockies fans and the greater Denver area might want to take note, as he's in line to pitch at Coors Field on Sunday. The D-backs will face him the following weekend back here at Comerica Park, and the Mets will do the same at the end of July.

On each particular night, hitters and fans and teammates will see how many pitches Verlander has working. And they'll see how many of those pitches opponents can hit in the first few innings. And if they can't hit any, they'll get the same feeling that the Indians, Verlander's teammates, the crowd of 28,928 at Comerica Park and countless more watching on TV had on Tuesday.

It's like that, at least at the start, every five days.

"Every time he goes out there, you get that feeling," teammate Don Kelly said.

The way he's going, it's going to be quite a summer, five days at a time.

"With that guy, you have to feel lucky any time you get a hit. That's just the way it is," said Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera, who broke up the no-hit bid. "He's such a competitive guy that he's a challenge every time."

Verlander nearly became the first pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1973 to throw two no-hitters in the same regular season. Four weeks earlier he was 10 outs from joining Johnny Vander Meer as the only Major League pitchers to throw back-to-back no-nos. And six days before that, he settled for a no-hitter at Toronto, the second of his career, after getting within five outs and an 11-pitch battle with J.P. Arencibia of a perfect game.

Each time, especially the two threats at home, the buzz has built. Each time, and countless others when he hasn't had history on the line, Verlander has gotten stronger in the late innings, feeding off adrenaline. On Tuesday it built really early, and it intensified with each inning.

"By the fifth with him, then I kind of really started to notice," catcher Alex Avila said.

After the sixth the energy intensified with each out.

"It was loud out there the whole time," shortstop Ramon Santiago said. "They were really into it. You feed off that energy."

That happens with a lot of no-hit bids, especially in front of good crowds. But arguably no other pitcher in baseball produces that feeling on such a regular basis. He's a no-hitter away from joining the ranks of Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Cy Young with three.

He doesn't have the lengthy resume of Roy Halladay or the postseason history of Cliff Lee or, maybe, the personality and look of Tim Lincecum. But on a game-in-game-out basis, he's putting up the expectation of potentially unhittable pitching.

In terms of pure, nasty pitches, he might well be the best in baseball right now.

"When you take that kind of stuff out there, three outstanding pitches and one average pitch, that's pretty tough," manager Jim Leyland said.

Leyland has said repeatedly that Verlander has the best stuff of any pitcher he has ever managed. On Tuesday he called it "some of the best overall stuff in the league."

His fastball on Tuesday averaged over 95 mph. His changeup averaged 86 mph, just under some pitchers' fastballs, and it induced 15 swings and misses. His curveball drew 18 called strikes and two swinging strikes out of 29 pitches.

Verlander threw only one slider on Tuesday compared with his no-hitter at Toronto, when he threw dozens of them because he didn't have his curveball.

When he no-hit the Blue Jays, his 106th pitch was clocked at 100 mph. He never hit triple digits on Tuesday.

"I don't think it's any one pitch," Toronto's John McDonald said at the time. "He just does such a good job of mixing things up."

Verlander's two no-hit bids featured vastly different stuff. The pitches he throws on a given night depend on what's working, sure, but he also has the awareness to adjust what he throws on how hitters react, and he can switch it up in the middle of a game.

"Every game I throw is a little different," Verlander said. "Everything was kind of clicking for me. Obviously, as we saw in Toronto, it can be done totally differently. And I really feel like that's something that's progressed for me over the years, to change my style of pitching according to my stuff."

Give him three of his four pitches, with his command, and he'll put on a show. With Verlander, that's what it is.

"That's my job, isn't it? It's the entertainment business," he said.

The more outings such as these, the more he's becoming baseball's headline act.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.