Verlander a cut above the rest - NBC Sports

Verlander a cut above the rest
AL's All-Star starter drawing comparisons to greats of eras past
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Justin Verlander says he'll "relish every moment of" his first All-Star start.
July 9, 2012, 9:07 pm

Justin Verlander and Don Newcombe are the only pitchers in history with MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.

Verlander also is one of only 26 pitchers to throw at least two no-hitters - not to mention coming within two outs of a perfect game on May 18th against Pittsburgh before Josh Harrison played the role of spoiler.

But what Verlander hasn't done is start an All-Star game. Odd, for arguably the game's best pitcher on a four-year run of dominance. His chance finally comes on Tuesday.

"This is going to be something different, and I'm going to relish every moment of it,'' Verlander said.

You could have made cases for Jered Weaver, David Price and even Chris Sale - all with more victories than Verlander in the first three-plus months of this season - to start for the American League.

But considering Verlander's four-season run, it's really an easy call for AL Manager Ron Washington - and one you'd think already should have been made in one of Verlander's four previous All-Star trips.

"He's certainly one of the best pitchers, not only in the American League, but all of baseball,'' Washington said about Verlander. "I expect a lot out of him, and I know he expects a lot out of himself.''

As hard as it is to follow up on his remarkable 24-5-2.40 season, Verlander's 2012 numbers are on pace in many categories beyond wins and losses:

He's 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA, and leads the AL in innings pitched (132.2), strikeouts (128), complete games (five), starts (18), and wins above replacement (4.3). He's also third in opponents' batting average (.204).

After watching from afar with great interest, National League starting pitcher Matt Cain knows what he'll be up against opposing Verlander.

"I get to watch him (on television) a ton, and I'm amazed at how he pitches, and the way he goes about his business,'' Cain said. "He can start out the game at 90-93 (mph), work his way around the lineup, and when he gets into jams, or when he needs it, he rears back and lights it up at 95-98.

"But he's not just doing that. He's working his curveball, his change-up. It's impressive to watch him go about his business - most of the time for eight, nine innings. If I see that, and it's a night when I'm pitching, I want to go 8-9 innings, like he does.''

It's getting to be that way with Verlander - the comparisons with greats from eras past.

At age 29 and in his eighth big-league season, Verlander's record sits at 116-62 - a .652 winning percentage. He probably won't win 300 games, but 250 seems within reach. His career ERA is 3.45, but in the last 3 1/2 seasons, it drops to 2.97. And in that time, he's 70-28 with 866 strikeouts in 848 innings.

Just for comparison's sake, Sandy Koufax's 1963-66 run is considered the most-dominant stretch of pitching in history. He won 25, 19, 26 and 27 games for a total of 97. His full-season ERAs were 1.88, 1.74, 2.04 and 1.73. He topped 300 strikeouts three times, maxing out at 382 in 1965. And along the way, he won three Cy Young Awards, one MVP award, and finished second twice.

Different eras can produce vastly different dominating numbers, and Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs in a row in 1992-95 with a combined 75-29 record. His season ERAs were 2.18, 2.36, 1.56, 1.63. And a 3rd and a 5th were his best MVP finishes.

How far Verlander rises into that stratosphere remains to be seen, but this generation of All-Stars already are impressed.

"He has the stamina to pitch nine innings and keep the velocity on his fastball; it's really incredible,'' Tigers' teammate Prince Fielder said. "He's the best.''

The Rangers' Mike Napoli will catch Verlander, and said he welcomes the different vantage point.

"He's one of the best; I'm hoping to get some insight into how he pitches,'' Napoli said.

Although it must be said that Napoli's first major-league at-bat came against Verlander on May 4, 2006, and it went for a home run.

"I hope he's a Hall of Famer some day,'' Napoli said. "I still have the ball.''

CC Sabathia is one of Verlander's annual AL Cy Young Award competitors, with three top-four finishes in the last four years. He says what's most impressive about Verlander is, "the way he's changed himself from a guy who just threw 100 (mph) all the time, to a guy who actually pitches. It sucks for me to have to face him all the time, but it's fun to see him do that.''

Yankees All-Star Curtis Granderson used to get the view from center field as Verlander's teammate with the Tigers, and he's looking forward to doing so again Tuesday.

"I always got the chance to watch him from behind; watch him dominate and stay confident,'' Granderson said. "I don't expect anything to be different (on Tuesday). It will be interesting to see if he tries to light up the radar gun, or just tries to pitch. But either way, he's going to be effective.''

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