In Justin Verlander's case, it was a tiny mechanical tweak to his arm angle that nevertheless took a whole 12 months to find. "A simple fix, really," according to the Detroit Tigers ace. So keep that in mind if you are worrying about whether Brett Cecil will be back in the majors.
Verlander will be on the mound Saturday afternoon in the second game of a four-game series at the Rogers Centre. Cecil will be at Triple-A Las Vegas, where he was scheduled Friday to make his third start since being sent down to find the few missing clicks on his fastball. Like Cecil, Verlander suffered a startling loss in velocity in 2008, when after tossing 387 2/3 innings over his previous two seasons - 186 of which came in his 2006 rookie-of-the-year campaign - his fastball fell to 91 miles an hour from 95-96.
Verlander finished 11-17 and his earned-run average of 4.84 was a full run over his career ERA.
"The first thing you want to do is get your velocity back, which is the wrong way to go about it," Verlander said on Friday. "All the issues you are having compound. If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd just pitch with what I had - and not try to do too much.
"There was nothing wrong physically. I felt better than I ever had in the big leagues up to that point - and I think that was probably just because my arm wasn't working as hard," Verlander added with a chuckle.
Verlander and Cecil are hardly cookie-cutters: one is a right-hander, the other a left-hander, and Verlander is a taller, power pitcher who lives in the upper-90-miles-per-hour range, a pitcher who has established himself to the point where he is a perennial Cy Young candidate.
Cecil's loss of velocity was pinpointed by the pitcher himself after what was in fact a pretty decent spring start. Friday night's outing, against Tacoma, was his third since being sent down. Cecil was rocked in a 4 1/3-inning start in messy weather at Colorado Springs in his first start, and struck out five and issued two walks while giving up six hits over 6 2/3 innings in his next outing, in which the Blue Jays were pleased to see a two-inning segment in which he was consistently 90-92 mph.
"The approach we are going to take is to ask him to use his fastball more, with the idea it will increase the overall arm strength," said Blue Jays manager John Farrell. "There is no magic number as far as velocity, but I think any time you can pitch at the high end of your range more consistently than it makes the secondary stuff that much better."
How it all shakes out remains to be seen, but Verlander says the lessons he learned during that lost season are manifested even now. A power pitcher, he will nonetheless yield to the reality of pitch counts and take something off a pitch to get a timely ground-ball out. In that way, it was a teachable lesson - and there's no reason it can't be the same for Cecil.