(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Take it from his foremost nemesis: Justin Verlander will be back.
"He's going to come back to the form he was," Billy Butler said late Monday night in the Royals clubhouse. "That's just how it is. You don't have that many trophies, that many accolades, not to.
"The only reason we're having this conversation is that he's never had this stretch, and he's thrown several consecutive seasons (seven) of 200-plus innings."
Butler had a booming double to center off Verlander in the fifth inning. No news there — the hit raised his career average off Verlander to .434.
The news is that Butler's hit came with the bases loaded and drove in three runs and put the Royals ahead to stay, and that an inning later Omar Infante hit a three-run homer off Verlander. Those blows sent the Royals on the way to what would have been a rout except that the Tigers scored six in the ninth — the last four on a grand slam by J.D. Martinez — and so the final was Royals 11, Tigers 8 at Comerica Park.
For the sixth time in his last seven starts, Verlander gave up at least five earned runs. But here's an important point, too:
As cold as Verlander has been, that's how the Royals are. They have won eight in a row, and in six of those eight games, they've scored at least six runs. They moved within a half-game of the Tigers and, if they make it nine straight tonight, they'll knock the Tigers out of first place in the AL Central for the first time this season.
"Whenever he made a mistake, we capitalized on it," Butler said. "That doesn't always happen. He's human out there, too. We've been capitalizing on everyone's mistakes, and we're hitting really good with runners in scoring position.
The least frazzled guy in town about Verlander might be Verlander. (The next-least-frazzled, at least outwardly, is manager Brad Ausmus, who gave no hint of any long-term anxiety about Verlander in his post-game pressconference.)
With a swarm of media facing him at his locker, Verlander answered every question in calm and friendly fashion. He even kidded that he would overhaul everything and start pitching like long-ago ace Luis Tiant, the master of the unconventional who, as chronicled by the New Yorker's Roger Angell, had at least six different wind-ups.
Verlander repeatedly acknowledged that he's as frustrated as he's ever been. But he showed no worry that his condition is permanent or irreversible. He said he feels excellent physically, and so on the checklist of causes, that wipes our arm trouble and leaves mechanics as the probable cause of his woe.
And perhaps some not-so-great luck. A two-out hit fell in to precipitate his sixth-inning demise in Chicago last week. On Monday, as both Verlander and Butler acknowledged, the Royals didn't hit a lot of rockets to put the runners on except for the big hits by Butler and Infante. "We did our damage on basically two swings," Butler said.
The contrasting corollary is that Verlander isn't getting strikeouts — either with his fastball or legendary curve — to prevent big innings. "Not executing, having trouble getting on top of the ball," he said of the drop in strikeouts (he had two on Monday).
The continental divide in Verlander's season, now 15 starts old:
His last seven starts: one quality start, 7.83 ERA.
His previous eight starts: seven quality starts, 2.67 ERA.
The conclusion from those first starts was that Verlander, 31, had a found a way to win well into his 30s, even though he no longer had the velocity to be a strikeout champion.
That conclusion never seemed more obvious only 1 ½ months ago in Kansas City when Verlander didn't allow the Royals a hit until Butler singled with two out in the sixth. Verlander fanned seven in that game, all with something other than his fastball.
But perhaps that game in Kansas City contained a foreshadowing of Verlander's current trouble. In the inning after Butler got the Royals' first hit, Kansas City scored three runs off Verlander in the seventh.
Monday marked the second straight start — and fourth overall — in his downturn in which Verlander gave up little until mid-game, then surrendered at least four runs in an inning. What does he make of that?
"Good question," he said. He declined to offer any theories. Here are a few:
Strikeouts don't rescue him from jams as they used to. And whether it's because of age or his annual workload or both, Verlander's begins to lose his stuff earlier in innings than he used to. So if he gets in a jam, he's more vulnerable to giving up the big hit than he used to be. His downturn began in mid-May when Baltimore — after being blanked for four innings — scored five two-out runs in the fifth off him, the last three on Nelson Cruz's homer.
Verlander will get as much time as he needs to work out of his trouble. Ausmus said, as if anyone would doubt it, that he will keep taking his turn.
"There is nothing to do but stay confident, move forward and turn the page," Verlander said.