Tigers Spring Training Preview-Justin Verlander

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) -- Justin Verlander is the only pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter, start a World Series game, be a Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in his first two full seasons.
"Cool," Verlander said when informed of the unprecedented quartet of feats. "That's awesome."
No doubt.
Verlander's 100-mph fastball, wildly breaking curve and knee-buckling changeup give him an assortment of pitches that reminds teammate Kenny Rogers of one pitcher over the last two decades.
"The only guy that comes to mind with three quality pitches like Ver is Nolan Ryan," said the 43-year-old Rogers, who played with Ryan in Texas during the final five seasons of his Hall of Fame career. "Ver is already great because of those three pitches and if he stays healthy, he's only going to get better and that's scary for other teams."
Verlander led the Tigers with 18 wins, 183 strikeouts and 201 2-3 innings last season as an All-Star. He won an AL-best 75 percent of his games and ranked among league leaders in opponents batting average (.233), wins and strikeouts.
He became the first Tigers pitcher to throw a no-hitter since Jack Morris did it during the 1984 championship season and the first at home since Virgil Trucks in 1952.
"When you're hitting your spots at 100, to be honest, it's going to be a tough day," Milwaukee slugger Price Fielder said last June after Verlander's no-hitter. "The guy throws 95 to 100, so you're not looking for a slider, and when he throws it that good for a strike it just kind of buckles you and you have to tip your cap."
Bill Hall of the Brewers predicted it would not be Verlander's last no-hitter.
"There's nobody in the National League like him, not with the control and power that he has," Hall said.
Verlander had 17 wins two years ago and had the most victories by a Tigers rookie since Mark "The Bird" Fidrych won 19 in 1976. He later started on baseball's biggest stage in the World Series.
Verlander has won almost twice as much as he has lost, going 35-17 over nearly 400 innings with a 3.74 ERA.
Only Dwight Gooden, who won 41 games for the New York Mets during the 1984-85 seasons, won more games among pitchers in their first two full seasons since 1970.
"Dwight had a good fastball and curveball, but he didn't throw as hard as Ver and his changeup hadn't developed yet," Rogers said. "It must be nice to have his stuff. His worst days are better than most."
Manager Jim Leyland said Verlander can continue to improve by learning how to mentally and physically deal with starts when he's not at his best.
"That's kind of the next step for him," Leyland said.
Verlander agreed.
"I talked about that last year, but there were points that I didn't really buy into it," he said. "If I don't have my best stuff, I have to not think about it or compensate for it by trying to throw harder instead of just trying to locate pitches."
The right-hander has been a success at each stop in baseball.
He stood out well enough at Goochland (Va.) High School and Old Dominion University, where he stayed three years, to be the second pick overall in the June 2004 draft.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Verlander dominated minor league competition three years ago, compiling an 11-2 record and 1.29 ERA at Class-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie.
Minnesota Twins outfielder Delmon Young played with Verlander in the 2005 All-Star Futures game and knows him off the field because his brother, Dmitri, played in Detroit with him.
They're friendly, but that doesn't mean Young enjoys facing Verlander.
"It's not fun facing him when a guy can uncork a fastball at 101 and drop a dirty split-fingered changeup, and then a hammer, a curveball, that's really tough to hit," Young said. "The guy has amazing tools. He knows how to pitch, and he's only going to get better.
"Just stay healthy, and this guy can win multiple Cy Youngs."


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