Justin Verlander wasn’t named on the United States’ provisional roster when it was announced just over a week ago, but apparently his decision to not participate in the World Baseball Classic wasn’t a final one. George Sipple and Mike Brudenell reported today that the Tigers’ ace was “still mulling whether or not to pitch in the WBC”.
“I spoke to (U.S. manager) Joe Torre about it,” Verlander said. “But at the same time, I got to get myself ready for spring training. I feel great (right now), and I’d love to pitch for the USA.”
Verlander would obviously be a huge addition for the US team — anytime you have the opportunity to add the best pitcher on the planet it’s a good thing — but participation could be big for Verlander as well. He carried the label of not being a “big game pitcher” up until last season. He squashed most of that talk with some big starts down the stretch in September — most notably winning against Chris Sale and the Chicago White Sox on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball — and with his stellar performances in the ALDS against the Oakland Athletics and the ALCS against the New York Yankees. But Verlander stubbed his toe in the World Series and talk has shifted from him not being a big game pitcher to him not being a good World Series pitcher (where he owns a career 7.20 ERA in three career starts).
I happen to think talk like this is a bunch of malarkey, but it’s better to see these nipped before they become a thing. I’m sure Verlander and the Tigers have their sights set on multiple World Series outings over the next several years, and everyone would be better off if questions about his inability to win the big game were no longer relevant.
The World Baseball Classic wouldn’t replicate the World Series — not even close — but pitching for the United States in a championship round setting might be the closest you could get outside of the real thing.
Justin is correctly putting his preparation for the Tigers’ season ahead of his desire to participate in the WBC, but it would be an opportunity to replicate some of the emotion, adrenaline, and pressure of the season and postseason that Grapefruit League play simply couldn’t provide.