I don’t think I’ve ever heard the FSD broadcast team have as much fun in the booth as they did last night. While they didn’t mention it until after Cleveland’s Orlando Cabrera singled up the middle with one out in the eighth to break up Justin Verlander‘s latest no-hit bid, Mario Impemba and Rod Allen wasted little time in discussing the near-historical feat for the rest of the game.
At one point, Mario asked if Rod had expected JV to get his third career no-hitter that night and Rod said he had and that he wasn’t even nervous about it. This isn’t a bit about homer-ism in the broadcast booth; it’s exactly what I was feeling while watching Verlander work as well. There were no nerves for me until I saw Cabrera step to the plate. I just sort of got a bad feeling when I saw him.
Verlander has taken a huge step forward this year, and that’s saying something when you consider all he’s already accomplished in the game. In years past, Verlander would make a habit of having one “blow-up” inning frequently in his starts; one where he’d give up a hit or two, maybe walk a guy, then proceed to try to throw everything past the next handful of hitters and finally get out of the inning after four or five runs had scored. This season, there have been no such innings.
I don’t know if it’s simply a case of a pitcher maturing, or if the conversations he had with former Tigers great Jack Morris had something to do with it, but Verlander appears to have taken his game to a new level; one which is unmatched across the American League this season, and maybe across all of baseball.
Seattle’s Felix Hernandez is the reigning Cy Young winner and he’s having another very good year, but he hasn’t matched the consistent greatness that Verlander has shown. Consider this: Verlander is currently leading the league in innings pitched (111.2) , strikeouts (105), and WHIP (0.887). He’s lowered his walks this season to a career-low 2.1 per nine innings while keeping his strikeout rate high (8.5/9). In 15 starts, Verlander has 14 “quality starts” and he has allowed four hits or fewer while pitching at least seven innings in six starts this year. He’s allowing less than six hits per nine innings this year, by far the best mark of his career.
When Verlander arrived on the scene he wasn’t much of a pitcher. Sure, he had electric stuff, but he too often relied on his high-90s fastball to get by. This season, Verlander has developed into a true pitcher who still has the tremendous arsenal he arrived with. Last night he threw more off-speed pitches than fastballs and still walked away with a season-high 12 strikeouts. His game score of 94 last night was actually higher than the no-hitter he threw earlier this year in Toronto.
Cleveland’s Manny Acta raved about Verlander’s performance after the game last night, saying “He’s still evolving and maturing as a pitcher, but he could go any given night and do what he did tonight with his repertoire and the quality of his pitches. To me, he’s top five in the game, without a doubt the best in our division.”
I don’t know if Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball, but I know Acta is right about him being top five. Maybe Roy Halladay is better overall, maybe a guy like Josh Johnson or Cliff Lee on a given night. But if I had to win one game right now, I’d take Verlander.