I worked pretty hard in the offseason to get ready for my second season. It wasn't based on trying to stay healthy as much as I was striving to be one of the best pitchers in the game. I know if I don't work hard, it will never happen.

There have been a lot of guys who were pretty talented but never made it to that next level. I want to work as hard as I can so I know I never left anything out there. I want to be able to say, "I gave it all I got."

I did more strength training this past offseason, working my shoulder a lot harder. The team has a program for me. I did some stuff on my own, but mostly I worked with our strength and conditioning coach. I lived down in Lakeland, Fla., where our Spring Training site is, and he and I worked out four days a week. Our rehab guys are all there too, and we did separate exercises for my shoulder.

I wore down a little late last season, so I took precautions in the offseason and during the first half of this season to make myself feel better in the second half. If you're feeling fatigued in August, it's too late to do anything about it. That was the problem I ran into last year.

Everybody tells me it takes awhile to understand what you have to do to stay -- and succeed -- in the big leagues. Everybody's different. I have to prepare myself differently than Kenny Rogers does. He's been doing it 18, 19 years. So he can't tell me how to prepare myself. With the help of our staff, I have to figure it out myself.

It was a little different this year coming off an All-Star appearance rather than getting a couple more days' rest at the break. I've bounced back pretty well physically. I'm feeling pretty good, but unfortunately we've struggled as a team since the break. We're too good a team not to snap out of it, though.

Despite the slow start in the second half, we're hungry as a team. I think losing last year in the World Series gave us a little bit more drive. I'm not the only one on our club who worked hard in the offseason -- by a long shot.

I think we'll see the benefits of all of our hard work in late August and September. We're going to be strong down the stretch.

Justin Verlander, 24, is 12-4 with a 3.58 ERA through his first 23 starts. He has 133 strikeouts and has allowed 52 walks during that span. Last season he was a revelation in Detroit, going 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA.