This is the first in a series of player profiles of the 2009 Tigers. I’ve developed them for each of the position players and the starting rotation — at least some of the pitchers in contention for a rotation spot — and will roll them out over the next week.
We kick things off with birthday boy Justin Verlander who turns 26 today.
Justin Verlander #35
- Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 200
- 2008 Stats: 11-17, 4.84 ERA
When a number-one starter opens the season 2-9, chances are his team faces a severe uphill climb. That certainly was Justin Verlanderâ€™s reality in 2008. When the calendar turned from April to May, the Tigersâ€™ ace had a 1-4 record with a 6.60 ERA, and by Memorial Day he was 2-9. But as the Tigers offense started to click in June, so did Verlander.
In nine starts from June 6 through July 20, he went 7-2 including a six-game winning streak. His ERA in June alone was 2.73 as hitters produced a mere .197 average against him. Ultimately the problem for Verlander in 2008 â€“ and the Tigersâ€™ entire staff â€“ was walks. In 33 starts he issued 20 more free passes and fanned 20 fewer men than he did in â€™07, fueling a 11-17 record and a 4.84 ERA.
Looking ahead to 2009, the Tigers and new pitching coach Rick Knapp will expect Verlander to have greater command of his explosive stuff and regain the dominant form of 2006 and â€™07. Watch for Verlander to reclaim the inner part of the plate in â€™09, and use a near-triple-digit fastball and devastating breaking pitches to remind A.L. hitters that heâ€™s one baseballâ€™s elite starting pitchers.