It was his right arm, though, that gave the New York Yankees so much trouble.
Verlander matched a career high with 14 strikeouts and got home-run support from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, leading the Detroit Tigers over New York 7-2 Monday night.
"Felt pretty good," Verlander said.
He looked good, too.
Verlander (12-7) threw 132 pitches, his most in a regular-season game, to lift the Tigers to a fifth straight win.
Before this opener of a four-game series, manager Jim Leyland said the Tigers needed a big effort from Verlander.
"Hopefully your ace is an ace," Leyland said.
Verlander was, putting together one of his best performances of the season. He started strong and didn't let up.
The reigning AL MVP and Cy Young award winner struck out former teammate Curtis Granderson — for the first of three times — with an 85 mph breaking pitch to lead off the game and struck out the first two Yankees in the second inning. Verlander also fanned Ichiro Suzuki and Mark Teixeira three times each.
Verlander gave up two unearned runs after his fielding error extended the fifth inning.
Leyland visited Verlander at the mound in the eighth after he gave up a walk to Raul Ibanez, and left him in the game following a brief chat about how he felt following Derek Jeter's comebacker off his left leg the previous inning.
Verlander said he told Leyland his left calf was OK.
"He said, 'Then let's get this last batter and we'll see what happens,'" Verlander recalled Leyland saying.
With many of the 41,381 fans on their feet, Verlander responded by striking out Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez and Suzuki to tie his strikeout high set last year against Arizona.
"In the eighth inning, he still had a 100 mph fastball," Suzuki said through an interpreter. "The rest of his pitches are great, too."
Suzuki snapped his 12-game hitting streak with the Yankees. He also struck out for the first time with his new team and finished with three to match a career high.
Verlander hit low and outside corners with fastballs and buckled knees with an assortment of breaking pitches that left the Yankees standing and looking or swinging and missing.
"Did you see some of those pitches?" Detroit catcher Alex Avila asked. "That last curveball, I don't think anybody could've hit it. I had enough trouble catching it."
When New York did make contact for base hits, Verlander was at his best.
"He shut us down," Yankees star Derek Jeter said. "A lot of time great pitchers get a little attitude when they have guys on base and they bear down. He did that."
After Verlander's night was over — one pitch shy of the career-high 133 he threw in Game 5 of the AL championship series last year against Texas — closer Jose Valverde retired the side in order in the ninth.
Detroit, which is chasing Chicago in the AL Central, has won 19 of its last 23 home games. The AL East-leading Yankees have lost 11 of 17 overall.
Ivan Nova (10-6) was roughed up for seven runs and 11 hits — matching a career high — in 5 1-3 innings. Nova is 1-4 over his last eight starts since June 28.
"Every pitcher goes through it," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You're going to go through struggles. For the most part, the kid has been pretty good for us but right now, he's struggling. He'll find his way out. Verlander, as good as he is, goes through struggles. He's not 20-0 this year."
Nova said he still has confidence in his stuff.
"I've got to keep my head up and keep working," he said. "It's just location. I left too many pitches over the plate."
Cabrera sent a thigh-high pitch over the middle of the plate 454 feet, clearing the second row of shrubs in centre field, for his 28th homer in the fourth inning. Fielder cleared the fences for the 19th time with a no-doubt shot to right in the second.
The Tigers broke it open with three runs in the fifth inning and two more in the sixth to go ahead 7-2.
Verlander allowed the Yankees to score twice in the fifth when Granderson hit a two-out grounder and the pitcher glanced down to step on first base as Fielder made an accurate throw that hit his glove. Jeter and Robinson Cano took advantage with RBI singles that made it 2-all.
"I need to be able to make that play," Verlander said.
He made up for that miscue — easily.
NOTES: Verlander is the first Tigers pitcher since Jim Bunning (June 10, 1958) to strike out 14 Yankees in a game. ... The Yankees have decided Triple-A LHP Manny Banuelos, out since May with a bruised left elbow, won't pitch again this season. ... Verlander had lost his last two starts, giving up nine runs over 12 innings. ... Nova has given up 11 hits twice this year to Detroit and three times in his career. ... Jeter had two hits, his 43rd multihit game of the year after having more than one hit in 45 last year.