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Verlander taking nothing for granted.

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Verlander taking nothing for granted.

Postby Dannomyte » Sat Jan 28, 2006 10:42 am

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's poise works both ways. While he isn't intimidated by the Major Leagues, he won't let himself feel entitled to a place within its ranks, either.

A year ago, in his first Spring Training, Verlander showed no signs the big leagues could shake him, not even when Ken Griffey Jr. stepped to the plate against him in a spring game. He took the rookie abuse from veterans in the clubhouse, did his work, impressed the Tigers and looked like someone who had been there before without looking like someone who was a millionaire before his first Major League pitch.

Now that Verlander is competing to stick in Detroit, he's still acting like an unknown commodity with plenty to prove. For all the speculation that the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation is his to lose, the big right-hander with the occasional triple-digit fastball refuses to view a Major League job as an expectation. He wants to win.

"It's more of a goal," he said. "It's something to work for and prepare myself for."

New manager Jim Leyland admitted last week that he has almost his entire roster set going into his first Spring Training, but the final spot in the rotation remains open. The pitchers involved make it perhaps the most interesting staff battle in Detroit since Jeremy Bonderman beat expectations and won a rotation spot at age 20 three years ago.

At the center of the competition is Verlander, the Tigers' top prospect since his selection as the second overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. He rose from Class A Lakeland to Double-A Erie to Detroit by the All-Star break in his first pro season, which probably would have ended with him in the Tigers rotation if not for shoulder fatigue in August.

Verlander's first two Major League starts showcased his promise but also his inexperience. He gave up three runs in the first inning of his Major League debut on July 4 at Cleveland, then regrouped to toss four scoreless frames before the Indians knocked him out in the sixth. Less than three weeks later, he again pitched the back end of a Tigers' doubleheader, this time giving up five runs in six innings.

His face didn't show his anxiety as much as his pitches did. In both starts, his nervousness helped him lose the touch on his breaking ball, essentially leaving him with only his fastball to go after big-league hitters.

"I haven't brought my 'A' game to the Major League table yet," he said after the second loss.

If it sounds familiar, it's because Bonderman went through some of the same growing pains in his first few starts. The difference is that Bonderman's struggles came early in what ended up being a full Major League season as a 20-year-old rookie. Verlander's losses came in spot starts, where he was called up for emergency duty and sent back to Erie the next day.

Verlander has tried to absorb all he can from Detroit's experienced starters, but he has the most in common with Bonderman. In many ways, he has taken the same approach as Detroit's young staff ace, who didn't let the attention of a 19-loss rookie season cloud his learning process on the mound.

As disappointed as Verlander was after each game, he has tried to make them learning experiences.

"It wasn't like I looked at it as, 'This is what I did wrong,'" Verlander said. "I looked at it and said, 'This is what I can improve upon. This is what I've learned.' There were a bunch of things, but I really can stick my finger on one thing and say, 'This is what I need to work on.' But at the same time, I know it's there.

"I know the feeling that I had and what I should've done. I learned more in those two starts than I did the entire season in the Minor Leagues -- pitching-wise, in-game, not necessarily coaching."

The last statement says plenty about where he stands in his development. Verlander needed less than half a season to advance out of Class A ball, and after just seven starts at Erie, he doesn't appear to have much to gain from returning there. And unlike fellow top prospect and Erie teammate Joel Zumaya, Verlander has no apparent future as a reliever. If he doesn't make the Tigers rotation, he's most likely headed to Triple-A Toledo, which is why he was one of the most popular figures at last Tuesday's Fandemonium at Fifth Third Field -- and why he was scoping out the ballpark.

"I was just telling someone this is a great ballpark," he said. "If I were not to make the (Tigers), this would be a great place to be. Obviously, it's not what the plan is, but ... "

Verlander is already popular in Detroit, as evidenced by the autograph seekers and fans who sought him out at TigerFest. For his part, Verlander said he was actually surprised how many fans already knew his name.

Leyland and pitching coach Chuck Hernandez know him relatively well, too, but that won't win him anything. Each has said that the fifth spot is an open competition. Roman Colon made an impression with flashes of brilliance during the Dominican League this winter. Zumaya, though younger than Verlander, has more Minor League experience, having reached Toledo late last season. And if the youngsters falter and Leyland opts for experience, then Jason Grilli could get the nod.

The one consistent bit of advice Verlander received during TigerFest and the Winter Caravan was to take things slowly. Even there, he already has a start. Having learned from his fatigue down the stretch last year, he changed his offseason training to involve less throwing and more general conditioning. He bought a house in Lakeland to spend most of the winter close to the complex.

That's where Verlander headed after the caravan. With more of that poise and any luck, he'll be back in Detroit before he's missed.

"I've always been one to perform under pressure," he said, "so hopefully, I'll continue to do the same."

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Postby moochman » Sat Jan 28, 2006 11:42 am

I don't mean to sound negative, but why did it bother me when I read "Having learned from his fatigue down the stretch last year, he changed his offseason training to involve less throwing and more general conditioning"?

Aren't the minor league coaches teaching these players how to train? I sure hope I am being a chicken little and sounding alarms over nothing.

That said, it sure is nice to start thinking about the Tigers up-comiming season. I sure hope Verlander can stick and show lots of growth this season, but I wouldn't be disappointed at all if they were to have him start in Toledo until he gets on a serious roll. You can't fake confidence, and you don't win in the bigs without it.

Besides, it's not like we don't have a back-up plan. "And if the youngsters falter and Leyland opts for experience, then Jason Grilli could get the nod". 8-o 8-o 8-o What ever happened to Wil Ledezma?
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Postby mcqfesijiba » Sat Jan 28, 2006 7:01 pm

About Verlander's fatigue, remember it was his first year of pro ball. Of course he should learn from his fatigue. I don't see anything wrong with that statement. Regardless of learning how to train, the actual experience of pro ball has to be different from college and high school, etc.

While I am also someone who would like to see Verlander open in AAA, unless he absolutely proves he doesn't need to go, I will say that if Grilli is somehow in the rotation, we're in trouble. Grilli just isn't that good. It would be Sean Douglass all over again. I doubt that happens, though since I have to think the worst case scenario would be Colon being the 5th starter, and I would like to see if the idea that he really is better as a starter than a reliever is in fact true. It's a small sample size, but the splits do suggest it's possible. As far as Ledezma goes, I do think they shouldn't give up on him so soon, but I can't see a 4 lefty rotation happening. Now, if Robertson or Maroth falter/ get traded, I hope he's somewhere in the running. I have some suspicion that Ledezma wasn't 100% all of last year considering shortly after his demotion, he was shut down for the season.
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Postby moochman » Sun Jan 29, 2006 1:28 am

I do seem to remember some talk of how the Mariners pitchers were getting beat on because they threw lefties too many games in a row. I think they had 4 lefties. And those were much more proven pitchers than the Tigers have. We really need to get lucky with our staff.
I'm thinking a rotation of Rogers, Bonderman, Maroth, Robertson, and ???. Bonderman and Robertson can throw with a little heat and keep hitters a little off guard. One thing is certain: they must both throw hard and throw strikes. Rogers and Maroth are great nibblers, so some hard strikes inbetween starts are a must, IMO.

Grilli even making the team shows that they haven't improved their depth much at all. He just isn't a major leaguer. Hey, Jason. Learn to throw a knuckleball.
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Postby tthousand66 » Sun Jan 29, 2006 10:50 pm

Hey, whatever happened to Nate "the Great" Cornejo? Wasn't he one of the "highly regarded Erie Five"?

Verlander and Zumaya, eh? We'll see corktowners, we shall see.

Whoa that Tiger history of developing young talent.
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Postby moochman » Mon Jan 30, 2006 12:38 am

They didn't like the way Nate threw his breaking pitches so they had him learn a different way to throw it. It ruined his career. This is a huge concern I have with the organization: player development. Why would they insist on changing a pitchers delivery AFTER he gets to the bigs? That is something that should have been adressed in the minors or left alone altogether, IMO.

Hopefully the changes made in the minors includes coaching that is in sync with the big club.
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Postby Dannomyte » Mon Jan 30, 2006 9:47 am

Another new Verlander article

Promising Verlander takes aim at fifth spot in rotation after learning a valuable lesson in 2005.


DETROIT -- Occupied, occupied -- keep moving, sir, the doors are about to close -- occupied, occupied vacant.

Like finding the only open seat on a crowded plane, Justin Verlander plans to squeeze in, shove his carry-on luggage under the seat and win a spot in the Tigers' rotation this spring as the fifth starter.

That's the vacancy du jour, the fifth spot. The other spots aren't just reserved; Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson are strapped in, waiting for liftoff.

Joel Zumaya and Roman Colon plan to prowl up and down the same aisle, looking for that open seat, but Verlander could grab it first. In fact, he has every intention of doing that.

This is the year after the summer of so much hype for Verlander, nearly all of it deserved.

He's the right-hander out of Old Dominion that the Tigers made their No 1 draft choice in 2004 -- the one with whom they played a tense game of contractual chicken during negotiations after the draft, and eventually signed, but only after pulling their offer off the table, then putting it back on.

It didn't take long for the Tigers to see what kind of dazzling prospect Verlander is, however.

First of all, he came to spring training last year ready to pitch, not as some primadonna who hadn't wanted to sign. His attitude was excellent -- which was important -- and he fit in much better than many No. 1s do in their first year of pro ball.

Then he went to the minors and lit up the Florida State League with dazzling numbers. At Lakeland, where he owns a house and has spent most of the offseason, Verlander went 9-2 with a 1.67 ERA. It wasn't long before Lakeland manager Mike Rojas was calling him "a complete package."

Verlander struck out 104 in 86 innings, allowed three home runs and put together a five-game winning streak in an early six-game stretch. By June, he had nothing left to prove in Class A, so the Tigers moved him up to Double-A Erie, where his stats got better.

In seven starts, he went 2-0 with a 0.28 ERA. They were the kind of starts that sent shivers of excitement up the spine of the Tigers' organization. One run in 32 2/3 innings -- no unearned runs, either, if you're thinking along those lines -- and a .103 batting average against.

No wonder the Tigers wanted to take a look at him at the major-league level, if the opportunity presented itself. No wonder they twice jumped at that opportunity.

That's where Verlander's good numbers of 2005 ended, though. He went 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA in those two starts, basically because he couldn't get his curve ball to work. Without his curve, he quickly found out that major-league hitters could sit on his fastball. It was a valuable lesson, but not the only one that Verlander learned last year.

On August 2, Verlander left a start at Erie after three innings because of tightness in his right shoulder. He had tried to summon his usual high 90s velocity, but it wasn't there. Fortunately, nothing more than fatigue was diagnosed, but it was enough to send a shot across his bow.

Back off, rookie. Don't throw so much. What's your hurry? As Verlander prepares for the 2006 season, he doesn't have to be told twice.

"I was surprised my arm got tired, absolutely I was," he said. "Thank God that nothing was hurt seriously. I came back to the instructional league, felt great, and I'm ready to go now in spring training.

"It was weird (getting tired). I just didn't have it. I couldn't throw hard."

Instead of excitement, the scare sent another kind of shiver through the organization, but it was short-lived. Verlander was OK, but he's now heeding his teammates' advice.

"This year, I started throwing later," he said. "Hopefully it will work out. Before last season, like a typical rookie, I was throwing way too much.

"The other guys said, 'Hey, kid, we know you think you're Superman, but take it easy.' I didn't really listen. That's why, at the end of the year, my arm ended up getting tired."

But only tired, not hurt.

In the process, Verlander might already have learned the lesson his new teammate Rogers said is among the toughest to learn: When to back off.

"I believe I know how to pace myself," Verlander said. "It's hard, though, when you're excited not to just go out there and get after it."

But that's not the essence of pitching, and if Verlander is going to grab that last seat, he needs to know it, remember it, and implement it.

"I feel I've done everything I can to prepare," he said. "Hopefully it'll show up in my pitching."

The talent is there, but Superman he isn't. Besides, Superman wouldn't need a plane, let alone an empty seat.


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Postby tthousand66 » Mon Jan 30, 2006 1:02 pm

The Morning Guys on XM Radio's baseball station were just raving about Verlander and his 97 mph fastball this morning. They had a guy named Matt Anderson who threw 100 and screwed that up....let's hope we don't see a repeat.

Do I sound negative?
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Postby moochman » Mon Jan 30, 2006 1:12 pm

tthousand66 wrote:The Morning Guys on XM Radio's baseball station were just raving about Verlander and his 97 mph fastball this morning. They had a guy named Matt Anderson who threw 100 and screwed that up....let's hope we don't see a repeat.

Do I sound negative?


Who are the Morning Guys? Are they a national team or more local? I don't think we'll see a repeat of Anderson as Verlander doesn't seem to have Chronic issues and will never be allowed to participate in a Octopuss throwing contest. 8-o

If you wanted to sound negative you could've whined about the fact they were raving about his fastball, which hitters have shown they can handle, and not about his curveball.

It is getting harder not to like Verlander. ST must be right around the corner. ;-D
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Postby tthousand66 » Mon Jan 30, 2006 1:17 pm

The Morning Guys are---the guys that are on channel 175 on XM radio in the morning! Seriously, just not sure who it was that was blabbing...I think it was Buck Martinez. Get XM for the baseball season...you'll love it. I just got it for XMAS and cant wait till the live games start. Here is a description of the show I mentioned:

Baseball This Morning
6AM - 9AM ET, 9AM - Noon ET (encore), Monday - Friday
From hot names in MLB to pressing topics, Baseball This Morning will be your first stop every morning for the information you need to know: MLB news, scores, statistics, player information and a guide to upcoming games on XM. This news-magazine-style show features leading sportscaster Mark Patrick, former Philadelphia Phillies All-Star shortstop Larry Bowa, and veteran player, manager, and broadcaster Buck Martinez.

And if you do get XM, I suggest you get a Delphi My-Fi so you can take the thing wherever you want (not just car or just at home, etc)
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