It was a small thing that illustrated a big thing.

It happened Friday, with two out in the third inning of the Tigers-Mets game. Justin Verlander was pitching against nonroster outfielder Matt den Dekker.

"I don't know if you guys noticed," Mets manager Terry Collins told reporters, "but the last guy he faced (den Dekker), he threw him a slider, and he made a bad pitch with it. He told the catcher (he'll) throw it again. And he did. And we still beat it into the ground.

"That's pretty good when you can do that."

This episode shows how Verlander, despite having a strong case as the best pitcher in baseball over the past two seasons, doesn't cruise through spring training. He uses every exhibition start, every exhibition inning, every exhibition pitch to get ready for this season.

He makes his next start today against Toronto. In the last one, against the Mets, he retired all nine hitters he faced, capped by that grounder from den Dekker after the misfired slider.

"If they would have let him keep going, this game would have been over in about an hour and a half," said Mets All-Star third baseman David Wright, who took Strike 3 from Verlander. "He's (in) good, midseason form. He was out there working on some stuff and really hitting spots."

Verlander agreed, sort of.

"For the most part my fastball location is good, if not better, than where it should be by now," he said. "And I feel like it was coming out pretty free and easy, again for this time of year.

"The only couple things: The first change-up I threw was kind of hard. Then I made the adjustment. Slowed that down. And (I threw) a couple hanging breaking balls. But my breaking ball is usually the last thing to come around for me."