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Updated: July 21st, 2011 11:44pm
Twins' inability to score early set tone for Verlander's dominance

Twins' inability to score early set tone for Verlander's dominance

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Verlander is a dirty man.

The Detroit Tigers ace completed eight innings in a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night, allowing one run on five hits, while striking out nine and issuing no walks.

His 126th and final pitch of the night was a 97-mph fastball.

"The thing is with him today, he was throwing some pitches at 91, then he'd throw some pitches at 98," said third baseman Danny Valencia, who went 0-for-3 with a check-swing strikeout against Verlander on Thursday night. "He never threw one consistent velocity, but he's tough to hit regardless. His numbers speak for themselves."

If Twins hitters weren't 100% sure what they were in for heading into the game, Verlander reminded them quickly, stranding Michael Cuddyer at third after a leadoff triple in the bottom of the second inning. The right-hander whiffed Jim Thome and Valencia, then ended the frame by inducing a weak groundout off the bat of Delmon Young.

A runner on third with nobody out is an automatic run in most cases. Against Verlander, the uphill climb is still pretty steep.

"We needed to get that run in," said Valencia, who also pointed out that an appeal should have been in order on his strikeout. "That set the tone for the game. That let him off the hook early, and you can't do that. He's too good to be let off the hook. Obviously he's got great stuff, but you've got to get that run in."

Later in the game, Verlander gassed Thome with a 99-mph fastball to strand a runner in the fourth inning, then froze the 40-year-old slugger with an 0-2 breaking ball in the sixth to leave runners on first and third.

One wouldn't know by watching Thursday's game, but Thome actually came into the game hitting .256/.439/.744 with seven home runs in only 57 plate appearances off Verlander.

"He kind of goes hand-in-hand with me as a pitcher," said Verlander, who, along with C.C. Sabathia and Jered Weaver, is a leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. "Early in my career, he really had my number. I made a lot of mistakes to him and he did a lot of damage with those mistakes. It seems like over the years I've been able to cut down on those mistakes less and less, therefore less and less damage with him at the plate."

And Thome shouldn't necessarily feel bad, because he isn't alone. Verlander now owns a 1.59 ERA in his last five starts against the Twins with 38 strikeouts, six walks and no home runs allowed.

"We've been able to irritate him enough with slapping the ball around and bloops and getting after him (in the past), so it's not like we feel like we're beat before we start the game," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But you have to be pretty good to beat the guy. The guy's throwing as good as he's ever thrown."

Verlander's list of eye-popping numbers is absurd and seemingly endless.

Heading into Thursday night, Verlander ranked third among American League pitchers in ERA (2.29), fourth in Fielding Independent Pitching (2.70), first in strikeouts (153), second in wins (12), first in total innings (157), second in complete games (4) and sixth in fewest walks per nine innings (1.89).

In 14 of 22 starts, Verlander has thrown at least 7 2/3 innings. The Twins' staff as a whole has gone that deep 18 times, led by Carl Pavano's seven.

And only twice in those 22 starts has Verlander allowed more than three earned runs.

"I just wish one day you could stand in there someday and see what it's like to see a guy with three pitches like that and take whacks at it," Gardenhire said, "because I've done it a few times myself and that's why I'm coaching."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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