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Detroit Tigers Need to Send Justin Verlander to Bullpen

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Detroit Tigers Need to Send Justin Verlander to Bullpen
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Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander doesn't want to be subjected to a pitch count. He says he gets stronger …

COMMENTARY | When the Detroit Tigers made Justin Verlander the highest paid pitcher before the 2013 season, it appeared baseball's best starter was only going to get better.

What the team has witnessed this year has been far from a dream: it's a terrible nightmare.

Verlander has struggle for much of the year, earning a rough 13-12 record with a 3.66 ERA. Though he has 195 strikeouts, the 30-year-old has yet to find an out-pitch, five months into the season.

Maybe it's fans having unrealistic expectations after a 24 win 2011 season capped off with the Cy Young award. Or maybe it's a pure example of a fireballer suffering from wear, tear, and age.

But his latest showing, September 18 against the Seattle Mariners, takes the cake.

Verlander lasted seven innings, but allowed three earned runs, including a solo homer to Justin Smoak, against a light-hitting Mariners team that won 8-0.

With the playoffs just two weeks away, the Tigers will be forced to make some difficult decisions. It's time they start doing that now.

Send Verlander to the bullpen.

Two years ago, heck, even last year, this would've been a crazy idea. But Verlander has fell so far from those days that even the Tigers' fifth starter, Rick Porcello, has out-pitched him. If the postseason started today, there would have to be some serious consideration to choose Porcello over Verlander, especially with a stronger infield defense anchored by Jose Iglesias.

Verlander hasn't been himself at all this season, and the playoffs are no time to try to regain his confidence and ability to overpower hitters with ease. Again, the proof that he's not himself is found in his recent outing against the Mariners.

Offensively, Seattle ranks in the bottom nine amongst major league teams. Their .239 average ranks 27. Verlander allowed three walks in the shutout, something that's received attention with his command issues.

The Tigers have been shutout 11 times this season. Four of those have occurred with Verlander on the mound. Sure, Verlander only controls one side of that spectrum with him never picking up a bat. He can't account for the run support teammates provide him with.

But that's not the point.

Verlander's still considered an ace, the type of pitcher whom gives his team an opportunity to win a game every five days. Yet, he hasn't done that consistently this season, as Max Scherzer has taken over that duty

Sending Verlander to the bullpen before the playoffs begin could be exactly what he needs. Scherzer had a similar demotion in 2010, but was rather sent down to Toledo to work on his craft. He returned to Detroit a much better pitcher and continues to be on the verge of winning his 20th game.

So far, Verlander has avoided that type of demotion, even during his awful 2008 season. Being baseball's highest paid pitcher and having 137 major league wins, bullpen duties might turn out to be an embarrassment, but it could help Verlander turn his game around. At this point, anything's worth a shot.

The Tigers are now 3-9 in games started by Verlander since the All-Star break. If they want to make a deep postseason run, it's time the team considers making a change.

Ricky Lindsay has followed the Detroit Tigers and Major League Baseball with a close eye from Metro Detroit for several years. He's currently the sports editor for his college newspaper, The Michigan Journal, where he covers the University of Michigan football team on Saturday afternoons from Ann Arbor.

You can find him on Twitter @RLindz35.

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