DETROIT — After allowing seven runs to the Cleveland Indians on May 3, Justin Verlander took to Twitter — always a risky move for an athlete, especially one coming off a frustrating performance.
"I'm going to dominate soon! I'm close," his tweet said. "Doubt me if you want. We'll see."
Since then, Verlander has backed up his bold words, allowing just four runs in four starts to help the Tigers bounce back from an awful stretch earlier in the month. Although Detroit is only at .500, Verlander and Miguel Cabrera have given the Tigers a boost at a time when it looked like 2016 might turn into another lost season.
"They've been outstanding. They've certainly been leading by example," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Father Time doesn't stop for anyone, but I think these guys are far from dinosaurs."
It looked like Ausmus might be an early-season casualty when the Tigers lost 11 of 12, leaving the third-year manager's job in doubt. But immediately after that slump, Detroit won eight of nine, taking advantage of a home stand in which the schedule eased a bit.
Verlander and Cabrera have been at the center of that upturn. The two former MVPs, both 33 and signed to massive long-term contracts, are crucial for the Tigers as they try to rebound from a last-place finish in 2015. If Verlander and Cabrera struggle, Detroit will have invested a lot of money for not enough return — at a time when there are other trouble spots on the roster.
After that game against Cleveland in early May, Verlander was 2-3 with a 6.49 ERA, and Cabrera was hitting a fairly quiet .276. In his last four starts, Verlander has 37 strikeouts in 30 1-3 innings. Cabrera, meanwhile, is hitting .389 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs over his last 15 games.
Although the Tigers (23-23) wrapped up an impressive home stand with a loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday, they were only three games behind the first-place Chicago White Sox in the AL Central entering Thursday.
"I think we're playing the way we expected to. Obviously, everybody wanted to harp on when we weren't playing well, and I touched on how the veterans in this clubhouse weren't going to let that get us down," Verlander said. "Guys are going to perform the way they expected to perform. It just so happened that nobody was performing the way they want to at the same time. That's tough to win that way."
In a victory over the Phillies on Tuesday, Verlander brought back memories of his MVP form when he was still throwing 97 mph in the eighth inning. He also made an adjustment to his slider recently.
"It's like a cutter when it's up, but when it's down it still has down slider action," he said. "I worked on it in the bullpen a while ago."
Having recovered quickly and impressively from an awful stretch, the Tigers will now strive for more consistency. This latest run of wins won't be the norm, but Detroit still has a chance for more success even as the team navigates a western road trip. The Tigers' next two opponents, the Athletics and Angels, both have losing records. Detroit starts a series at Oakland on Friday night.
With right-hander Jordan Zimmermann dealing with a groin injury, there will be even more pressure on Verlander to continue his recent surge, But he certainly doesn't mind that responsibility or the spotlight that comes with it.
That much was obvious when he sent out that tweet.
"It's just kind of a feeling that you have. I tweeted exactly the way I felt," Verlander said. "I felt more and more consistent every time I took the mound, and so that's why I said what I did."