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Ace in the hole: Justin Verlander changes Chicago luck

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justin-verlander-tigers.jpgDetroit Tigers' starting pitcher Justin Verlander popped a fastball into catcher Dane Sardinha's mitt, striking out Josh Fields as securing a 2-1 victory Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

The radar gun displayed "98" as the crowd hung its collective head in mismay.

Impressive, sure. But so much more impressive considering it was his 122nd pitch in a six-hit complete game, a performance Tigers manager Jim Leyland dubbed "a masterpiece."

"It's hard to describe how well he pitched," Leyland said. "Just absolutely tremendous."

Jim Thome's seventh-inning home run was only run the White Sox could muster, and when the slugger stepped up to the plate in the ninth, Verlander admitted he considered pitching around him.

But, the 6-5 right-hander who led the American League in losses last season said that goes against everything that has gotten him this far. He prompty fanned Thome, and a few pitches later secured his seventh victory of the year.

A year in which he's pitching like he's not afraid to lose.
Losing, of course, had become a bit of a habit for Verlander in Chicago. Entering Wednesday, he was dragging an 0-6 career record and bulky 9.52 ERA on the South Side with him. Not exactly eye-popping numbers.

justin-verlander2.jpgBut his out-dueling of John Danks, combined with nine consecutive quality starts and an ERA that has dropped from 9.00 to 3.02 since April 22, have him staring straight in the face of an All-Star game appearance.

After winning the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year Award and pitching the Tigers to the World Series, the 26-year-old had a forgettable 2008 campaign that saw him finish with an 11-17 record 4.84 ERA. Two out of his first three outings this season were losses.

But, as the unquestioned ace of the staff, Verlander has rebounded in a big way, going 7-0 since then, along the way leading the American League in strikeouts. For all the hype surrounding Kansas City's Zack Grienke, it may in fact be Verlander who is Mr. Right Now as far as right-handed pitchers go.

On a night when he had ace stuff, he also had that ace mentality, serving as a 122-pitch workhorse in a game Leyland called "huge" for both teams.

He's always had the stuff. Just not in Chicago.

Until Wednesday night's masterpiece.

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This page contains a single entry by Kyle Koster published on June 11, 2009 2:10 AM.

Josh Fields on moving across the infield, borrowing Konerko's mitt was the previous entry in this blog.

Rex Grossman may sign with Houston Texans is the next entry in this blog.

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