There are some things that a power pitcher can get away with, like throwing high in the strike zone.
Justin Verlander became a 15-game winner for the Detroit Tigers last Sunday, has been clocked in triple digits, and is the best pitcher on the staff.
“My God, that guy’s throwing 100 miles an hour in the sixth inning,’’ said Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones. “You’re not going to mount much against that. It’s really tough for the best hitters in baseball to put that in play.”
Only 26, and barely scratching his prime, the 6-foot-5 right-hander out of Old Dominion University, has tossed three complete games, third in the American League, while working 189 innings. In that time, Verlander has punched out 215 batters, which leads the circuit in strikeouts, and has a 3.38 earned-run average.
“He’s a special talent,’’ said Detroit Manager Jim Leyland. “I think he’s one of the premier pitchers in the league, not just young pitchers.”
Verlander toiled one year in the minor leagues, first in Advanced A with Lakeland in the Florida State League, then Double A with Erie in the Eastern League, and compiled an 11-2 mark and a 1.29 ERA.
In just 119 innings, spanning 20 starts, Verlander whiffed 136 batters and walked 26.
Sure, the Tigers, who are first in the AL Central, could have let him pitch the rest of the 2005 season in the minors, and part of 2006, but what would it prove?
These numbers turned heads, along with an eye-popping fastball, so the one-time No. 2 overall selection in 2004, moved to the big leagues.
Now could he match, or even come close to what he did in the minor leagues? If anything, the nearly unhittable fastball was Verlander’s calling card. Any other pitch, curveball or changeup, would be a bonus.
Poised and thought ready, Verlander fumbled in two starts for Detroit that season, losing both games, and finishing with an ERA of 7.15.
Yet, neither Verlander’s nor the Tigers’ confidence was dashed prior to 2006, which can be a problem for many young players.
Forgetting his brief stay the previous season, Verlander assumed the command and mound presence he displayed in the minors.
In 30 starts and 186 frames, Verlander walked 60 and fanned 124, while posting a 17-9 record. He ended the season with a 3.63 ERA, and also won the Rookie of the Year trophy.
The Tigers blitzed their way past the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series, and swept the Oakland Athletics in the AL Championship Series.
Just like 1968, Detroit had a World Series date with surprising St. Louis, which barely finished above .500.
The end result was that the Tigers were de-clawed by the Cardinals, falling in five games, with Verlander losing twice and clinging to a 5.73 ERA.
So much for fairy tales, but an important lesson was learned, and that is team records don’t always indicate the ultimate winner.
An 18-game winner in 2007, Verlander had an outing to remember on June 12, when he faced the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. Masterful and over-powering, he allowed no hits, while striking out 12, and walking four.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,’’ Verlander said. If he avoids injury, there should be many more thrills.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.