Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander showed Friday night why if the Detroit Tigers group of young pitchers stays healthy, the Tigers are going to be good for a very long time. Verlander, who struggled in his last start, a three inning performance against Minnesota, was dealing against Kansas City, a team he has owned in his young career (5-0, 1.58 ERA in six starts -- pretty impressive numbers). He pitched seven strong innings Friday, struck out three, walked only one, and lowered his season ERA to 2.75. He had his fastball working, touching triple digits, and his off-speed stuff was pretty good too. Overall it was the type of performance you would expect from one of baseball's brightest young pitchers.
There was a fear, especially when Verlander struggled a bit in Spring Training, that the 2006 Rookie of the Year would take a step back in 2007. After pitching significantly more innings in 2006 then he ever had before, it was expected that all of those extra innings would catch up with Verlander at some point. But, so far, the predicted slide hasn't happened. That's likely because Verlander refused to take the winter off after his Rookie of the Year first season and a trip to the World Series. Instead, as he told the Detroit News back in February, he worked on strengthening his shoulder so he wouldn't suffer any ill-effects from the extra workload.
"I hit a wall last year," Justin Verlander said. "That's what happened to me."
"I'm really working my shoulder hard," he said of a new offseason regimen. "I feel like it's working. Instead of dumbbells, I'm using manual resistance -- someone else applying resistance on the way up and me resisting on the way down.
"This is different than what I did last year, different and more intense. Last year was more dumbbells, and me being naïve thinking I can just sort of halfway my way through these exercises and be able to make it through the year just fine."
So far, the work is paying dividends. Aside from the Minnesota start, Verlander has been phenomenal in each of his starts, and he looks even more comfortable on the mound then he did last season when he won 17 games. A pretty scary thought for opposing teams.
In other Tigers news, at least some of the bats have woken up a bit. Gary Sheffield has turned it around the last 10 days or so, and the two home runs he hit at Comerica Park during the Baltimore series should help him gain some confidence in his new home ballpark. And he's showing some speed on the basepaths, swiping three bags in the past week, to go with his two home runs and .429 average. Craig Monroe and Sean Casey are also each hitting over .300 (Casey close to .400) in the last week, so that's a great sign. And Magglio Ordonez, with two doubles on Friday, continues his hot hitting. As Rod Allen said on a FSN broadcast last week, if it weren't for Alex Rodriguez, Ordonez would be the MVP of the American League for the first month of the season.
With the pitching the Tigers have gotten from their starters, now that the bats are turning around a bit, it's only a matter of time before the Tigers tackle Cleveland and recapture the lead in the AL Central. And not a moment too soon.