LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander is pensive as he sits in the middle of a swarm of reporters. His answers are generally short, though he'll flash some of his personality from time to time. Verlander's mind appears to be ready to move on to the next task. It's already on something other than the Spring Training start he just finished minutes earlier.
In other words, Verlander is already in regular-season mode. Never mind that he's still in Spring Training for a few more days. His 2013 season just started.
Nothing -- not Verlander 's 30th birthday last month, not his marketing presence that includes a spot in MLB's ad campaign leading into Opening Day, not even the much-chronicled contract rumors -- will get in the way of that.
W: Verlander L: Worley SV: Coke
"I've got no comments on contract anything," Verlander said Wednesday. "We're one start away from Opening Day and I'd prefer to talk about that."
It's the same stance he anticipated going into Spring Training, "knowing me and how I don't like distractions," he said in February.
To say that Verlander -- who on Friday agreed to a five-year contract extension that reportedly will pay him $28 million a year from 2015-19, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball -- is a creature of habit doesn't give him enough credit. He's a champion at it. It's the way Verlander's parents got him to focus his talents as an energetic kid growing up in Virginia, and the way he built his game and become most of the most formidable competitors in any sport today.
"He likes order, structure," his mother, Kathy, said last summer. "And so that's the way we parented him."
It is fitting, then, that Verlander's consistency on the mound has made his dominance look routine. The way he pitched in 2011, his performance last season looked almost ordinary.
Take away Verlander's 24-win American League MVP Award season in 2011 and his 17-loss season in '08, and the rest of the seasons look alike. He has been good for 33-35 starts, 17-19 wins, 225-250 innings and around 240-250 strikeouts. His strikeouts-to-innings ratio has been virtually even the past two years.
Verlander's walk totals have hovered around 60 a year. Opponents can usually get him for 20 or so home runs a year, or .6-.8 per nine innings, and a rate of seven to eight hits per nine innings. He has posted about twice as many strikes as balls every year since 2009.
Other stats will fluctuate a bit, but the Tigers have been able to set their expectations for Verlander atop their rotation and go down the line in their rotation from there. In 2011, when he won both the AL MVP Award and AL Cy Young Award, he provided a little bit more. It made Verlander's return to expectations in 2012 looked like a down year in some aspects, but it wasn't down for the Tigers.
Verlander changed the routine a little bit this offseason and started throwing a little bit later in the winter to give his arm a chance to rest after extended innings the past two years, but his spring was fairly predictable, save for a wayward pitch to Jordany Valdespin as he squared around to bunt that ended up as one of the highlights of Spring Training. Verlander's agent, Mike Milchin, compares him to Farmer's Almanac, he has said more than once, because his rough starts in the spring usually happen right on cue. So do his better ones.
"I've got the same thing usually at similar times in the year," Verlander said. "I usually ask him where I'm at. I've actually been ahead of schedule velocity-wise."
If his past seasons are any indication, Verlander will take the opening month to settle in, finish April around .500 whether he pitches well or not, and then get into midseason form from there. He pitched better last April than he ever had before, but didn't get the wins to show for it thanks to a couple of no-decisions.
One of them was on Opening Day in a low-scoring duel with the Red Sox, who tied the game in the ninth off Jose Valverde and left Verlander winless for a fifth straight Opening Day. It has gotten to the point where all he wants to do is pitch well and let the result for the opener be what it is.
"That's every start," Verlander said. "Wins and losses are always somewhat out of your hands."
Verlander is already in that mode. Once he walked into the clubhouse after his outing Wednesday, he was there. Come Monday, even if the temperatures are hovering around freezing at Target Field in Minneapolis, he expects the same out of himself, as always, even if he has to break habit and pitch in long sleeves.
"I don't like wearing [long] sleeves, but hoo," Verlander said. "These dry-fit things, they don't do much for the temperature, anyway. I'll go out in a jacket and pitch in that. Just a big poof coming at you."