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 Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors

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PostSubject: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:36 pm

Tandem at top puts Tigers in position
Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors

By Jason Beck / MLB.com

06/22/09 12:00 AM ET

DETROIT -- Tigers owner Mike Ilitch drew a crowd of players when he visited the Detroit clubhouse Friday before their game. He shook hands and chatted with many of them, but he also had one particular player he enjoyed meeting.

For someone who has followed baseball for years, Edwin Jackson's smooth delivery on the mound was a joy for Ilitch to watch. Right next to Jackson was Justin Verlander, whose 2009 season has also been a spectacle to behold.

Folks in Detroit can appreciate seeing Jackson and Verlander next to each other. Opponents, on the other hand, have learned to dread it.

While Verlander and Rick Porcello won AL Pitcher and Rookie of the Month awards, respectively, for going a combined 10-0 in May, it's the tandem of Verlander and Jackson that has given opponents the most trouble and the Tigers their biggest lift. Consider their feats in just the past six weeks:

• They combined for 16 scoreless innings for back-to-back shutouts during an early May series sweep at Cleveland, including a complete-game 1-0 shutout from Verlander.

• They pitched 14 quality innings against the Rangers from May 20-21 to cap a three-game sweep at Comerica Park.

• After Tigers pitching gave up 12 runs over the first two games of a four-game series at Baltimore, Verlander and Jackson held the Orioles to three runs the rest of the way, including eight scoreless innings from Jackson in the finale to salvage a series split.

• They combined for 17 innings of one-run ball against the Angels two weeks ago, splitting a pair of 2-1 decisions.

"I'd have to say for the first few months, they've probably been as nice a 1-2 punch as anyone in baseball," manager Jim Leyland said last week.

The stats back him up, but the biggest impact might be seen in the standings. On a team whose strength was expected to be offense, Detroit's dynamic duo is arguably the biggest reason why the Tigers are leading the AL Central.

And as others prepare to mount a challenge to the Tigers' lead, Verlander and Jackson loom as the two biggest obstacles. They won't be pitching back-to-back again for a while thanks to a rotation shuffle, but their matchups often change the tone of a series.

"On a good pitching staff, you feed off each other and you feed off the person in front of you," Jackson said recently. "When they pitch a good game, you want to do the same thing. When they pitch a bad game, you want to come out and pick them up."

Whether it's mere coincidence or something more, the recent AL Central races have seemingly swung on strong starting pitching, or on starting depth. Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks formed a formidable trio for Chicago last year. CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona combined for 38 of Cleveland's 96 wins in 2007. Verlander and Kenny Rogers won 17 each in 2006, but lost out on the division crown to the wicked tandem of Johan Santana and then-rookie Francisco Liriano before his elbow injury that August.

Time will tell if Verlander and Jackson carry this year's race, and if they can allow Rick Porcello to continue to flourish. Nonetheless, it hasn't taken long for them to try to fill those roles, even though they're all 26 or younger.

"I think they've all three kind of rubbed off on each other," said first-year Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp. "They're differing styles, but they've all been efficient. I think they all kind of feed off each other."

The Tigers were counting on Verlander's return to dominant form. His 2008 season was a symbol of their frustrations, leading the league with 17 losses along Detroit's way to a last-place finish. Yet as speculation hounded Verlander -- whether he was hurt, if he could handle being the top guy, or whether he could handle the innings workload -- almost no one doubted his potential.

"At some point at this level, you run into tough times," Leyland said. "I think it was just a matter of adjustments. I'm sure it was mechanical stuff. I think there was some adrenaline stuff. He's just got himself more under control now, mechanically and mentally. "

Getting him there was one of Knapp's top priorities. Their Spring Training focused on mechanics and aggressiveness. Yet it was a late-spring move by Verlander to lower his arm angle that set him on track to a turnaround.

It didn't happen instantly; he went 0-2 over his first four starts with 21 runs in as many innings. But his walks were down, and his strikeouts were sharply higher. Most important, his fastball was back in the upper 90s consistently.

"Verlander's just back to his Cy Young form," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "He's throwing all three pitches for strikes."

His seven scoreless innings and nine strikeouts against the Yankees on April 27 served as the turning point. He's now 8-1 with a 1.64 ERA in his past 11 starts, including 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball Sunday to outpitch Yovani Gallardo and the Brewers.

No pitcher has gone from 17 losses one season to 17 wins the next since Jack Morris and Mark Langston did it from 1990 to '91. Verlander is on that pace.

"This is why I told you guys that I don't see how things can't turn if I continue to throw the ball the way I'm throwing it," Verlander said after beating Cleveland last month. "I knew how I felt. I knew my stuff was there. There were just a couple fluke things that were going on."

Jackson, though, was the unknown. And as he got off to a solid start in April, he had to prove to the rest of baseball that he could keep it up.

He came to Detroit from Tampa Bay over the Winter Meetings with the same gifted arm that made him one of baseball's top prospects five years ago. The Rays knew his capabilities, but felt they had the pitching depth to deal him for young power hitter Matt Joyce.

"Edwin was always regarded as a blue-chip prospect," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "The feeling of our scouts that had seen him pitch was he was in a spot where he was starting to make strides to become a pitcher rather than a thrower. They saw him make progress last year."

Still, his best known quality was the ability to take the ball and provide innings. Few, if anyone, would've predicted he'd have so many quality innings.

There was no overhaul on the Tigers' part, no epiphany from Knapp. But at age 25, with parts of six big league seasons under his belt, Jackson made the transition to pound the strike zone consistently.

The stuff is more polished. The slider is sharper, and the command is much more precise. One scout noted a more veteran poise in him this year in big situations. And like Verlander, his velocity has often been stronger as his games roll along, all the way up to 98 mph in his final inning against the Angels a few weeks ago. He pitched into the seventh inning with one run or less allowed in six of his first eight starts, and he helped Detroit through several low-scoring games.

"He has a different way of showing what he's about," Knapp said, "and it is complementary. He has a great routine to prepare for a game. I think that's kind of rubbed off on quite a few guys, trying to get the look."

Individually, they're represented on many of the American League pitching leaderboards. While Verlander leads in strikeouts, only Zack Greinke has a lower ERA than Jackson.

Just as important to the Tigers, they both rank in the AL's top 10 in innings pitched. The more innings they've handled, the more rested the bullpen has been for Porcello's outings after them.

"It's been a blessing that they've given us some innings," Leyland said, "because we know we're watching Porcello's pitches. That's been a godsend with those two guys."

The challenge now for the Tigers is more about the back end of the rotation. Verlander, Jackson and Porcello have combined for a 22-11 record and 26 quality starts in 42 outings. The four other Tigers who have started this year have eight quality starts in the other 26 games this season.

No team had beaten the Tigers with Verlander and Jackson on the mound in back-to-back games, since Toronto did to open the season, until the Cardinals did it last week. That was also the first time since April that any opponent won a series in which Verlander, Jackson and Porcello pitched.

There, Shapiro points out, lies the impact of that type of combo.

"First, they prevent any prolonged slumps," Shapiro said. "That's what [Sabathia and Carmona] did for us that year."

The Indians never lost more than four straight games in 2007, thanks in part to Sabathia and Carmona. The Tigers, who had six losing streaks of five games or more last year, haven't had any this season.

The second impact, Shapiro said, is that it helps line up a rotation in the postseason. Time will tell if the Tigers get to try.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:39 pm

Hell yeah! Whoooooo!
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:39 pm

Best thing teams facing these guys can do is run up their pitch counts


You know Leyland probably won't let either pitch another CG this season
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:42 pm

I think he will. He's been good about pitch counts this year.
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:44 pm

gdennis59 wrote:
I think he will. He's been good about pitch counts this year.



Magic 8 ball says no more complete games the rest of this season

Sorry
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:44 pm

gs78 wrote:
gdennis59 wrote:
I think he will. He's been good about pitch counts this year.



Magic 8 ball says no more complete games the rest of this season

Sorry

How many times has the Magic 8 Ball been right?

Not many

Sorry
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:44 pm

However; Magic 8 ball says a Tigers sweep over the Cubs is likely
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:45 pm

gdennis59 wrote:
gs78 wrote:
gdennis59 wrote:
I think he will. He's been good about pitch counts this year.



Magic 8 ball says no more complete games the rest of this season

Sorry

How many times has the Magic 8 Ball been right?

Not many

Sorry




Maybe it is defective :shrug:
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:48 pm

lol.

There is that possibility.
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:49 pm

gdennis59 wrote:
lol.

There is that possibility.





Better be right about the sweep over the Cubs

or it might end up in the trash can
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:50 pm

Haha. Well if Jackson pitches well in the first game and gets some run support we should be able to.

We just need hits!!!
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:52 pm

gdennis59 wrote:
Haha. Well if Jackson pitches well in the first game and gets some run support we should be able to.

We just need hits!!!



And a whole bunch of walks
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:54 pm

The reason for higher pitch counts for Verlander is he is a strike out pitcher. It comes with the territory. Fly out-ground out pitchers invoke the batter to hit the ball, on less pitches, thus lower pitch counts. It would be good if Verlander could find a happy medium. That would get him more complete, to near complete games.


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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:58 pm

Walks are good!

In that one Pittsburgh game, where Willis kept walking guys, the FSN Pitt announcers said the Pirates manager should have threatened to fine players for swinging at Willis' pitches. They felt he would have had twice as many walks, if they quit swinging at the balls he was throwing.


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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:59 pm

GoGetEmTigers wrote:
Walks are good!

In that one Pittsburgh game, where Willis kept walking guys, the FSN Pitt announcers said the Pirates manager should have threatened to fine players for swinging at Willis' pitches. They felt he would have had twice as many walks, if they quit swinging at the balls he was throwing.


Tigers outta teach Willis to hit instead of pitch


Willis can't get it done anymore
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PostSubject: Re: Verlander, Jackson not doing AL opponents any favors   Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:12 pm

I still think he will end up being a position player, and not a pitcher. He has a different body construction now, than when he was ROY. It is harder for him to pitch mechanically, with the heaver weight.


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