KURKJIAN: You were already a pretty good pitcher entering this season. How did you take it to another level?
VERLANDER: The big thing for me was slowing down the speed of my pitches. The first few innings, I try to slow down on purpose and establish a rhythm so that once I want to throw harder I can, and I still have the control that I do when I'm only throwing 91, 92.
Was there a specific batter confrontation that you remember thinking back, I could have picked a better pitch? No. I've always been a power pitcher and I don't want to get beat with something that's not my best. And for me, in a big situation -- 100 mph, best curve ball -- I'm going to go with what I feel like my best is.
How hard is it for you to slow down your pace on the mound? It's very difficult. It's not a sprint for a starting pitcher, it's a marathon. But then early in games, guys get on base and I really have to commit. It's almost like every pitch I have to remind myself of this mentality I'm trying to create. Sometimes that changes. Bases loaded, one out, then it's like, I can't let a three-run inning happen here, so I'm going to go to my best stuff.
How is it you're throwing 96, 97 and then you say, I've got to throw this one harder, and then you're able to do that? You know how in golf if you want to hit the ball farther and you swing harder, it doesn't work? Well for me, when I'm pitching, it does. When I want more, it's there and I can go get it.
What does it feel like when you know you have your very best stuff? It's empowering. It's just a feeling of confidence. When I've got my best stuff going and I'm locating it, I don't think about just one hitter. I think, No one on this team has a chance. I don't see how they're going to be able to string together a series of at-bats to put runs on the board.
Is that what June must have felt like when you were 6-0 with an ERA of 0.92? That empowered feeling, after dominating hitters for an entire month? I did, but it starts every game for me. Basically all I was doing when I was working in my bullpens was trying to maintain that feeling so I could keep my swagger on the mound. I knew for that month, if I could keep that feeling and if I could keep pounding strikes and hitting my spots the way I was, I'd have a lot of success.
Growing up, who was the pitcher you loved? Nolan Ryan. That was my guy. I caught him at the end of his career.
Did you see him live? No, I didn't even go to a major league park until I was invited to a camp out of high school. The second time I saw one was when I made my debut.
Ryan also had a great second pitch. And a third. Was this the year that you started to think, I've got to think through every single pitch? Pretty much. I've called my games since I've been in the big leagues. I've been told I look like a human bobblehead because I shake off the catcher so much. There's maybe two or three times in an entire game where I don't trust my instincts, and I'll let the catcher call that pitch. And I do feel like I've probably chosen a lot of the wrong pitches coming up, and I probably still do. But having done that for six, seven years now, I feel like I wouldn't know as much as I do had I just thrown what somebody put down.
What can you do better in 2012? In April this year, I was talking with Brad Penny and said, I want to have a quality start in every start this year. He looked at me like I was an idiot. But I remember thinking, This is the worst I'm going to be all year. And obviously that wasn't the case -- no matter how good you pitch there might be a couple of starts you give up more than three. But that was my goal this year, and I didn't fall far short. [Verlander had quality starts in 82 percent of his appearances, a career high.] I think I can be more consistent with my curve ball and eliminate mistakes. I want that feeling I had in June. I want that for an entire season.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He interviewed Verlander on Nov. 14, 2011.