Justin Verlander, now healthy, rediscovers greatness

Justin Verlander wants to end up in the Hall of Fame. Two years ago, as the Detroit Tigers ace battled through a triceps injury in the early part of the season, that didn’t seem likely.

Now he has a chance again. A real good one if he keeps pitching as he did last season.

Think about that for a moment, about how good Verlander was a year ago compared with where he had been before the bounce-back. Think, too, about the kind of mental and tactical change he had to go through to make that journey.

Verlander feels great. About his health. About his place on the team. About the promising young guys in the rotation he hopes to continue to mentor.

About the Tigers owner, Mike Ilitch, and the team’s decision to bring back the veterans one more time to make a run at the playoffs.

“In all my time here, I’ve never walked into spring training and thought we didn’t have a chance,” Verlander said.

He thinks they have a chance this year, too. They do. At least a chance.

Whether it works out depends on health, a bit of luck, the development of a few young arms and Verlander, who turns 34 in February and has to show that the pitcher we saw a year ago wasn’t a fluke.

His manager, Brad Ausmus, doesn’t think it was.

“I expect (Verlander) to be exactly where he was,” he said. “I expect him to be the ace, to be the horse.”

It’s easy to take for granted a star athlete’s performance. After all, Verlander was as naturally gifted a pitcher as baseball offered, and when he finally returned to form, the temptation was to cite those heavenly gifts.

And yet here was a power pitcher with diminished power. A strikeout pitcher who couldn’t strike anyone out.

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