AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
I'm talking about Detriot's Justin Verlander, who was clocked at 98 mph in the ninth inning of his 2-1, complete-game victory against the White Sox on Wednesday. This is a new Verlander, who picked up his first win in nine career starts at U.S. Cellular Field. Yes, he was Rookie of the Year in 2006, and finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting in 2007, but he's never been this good for such a long stretch of time. In fact, after last season's disastrous 11-17 record, it was unclear if he'd ever be good again.
Something happened on April 27. Verlander was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA when the Yankees came to town, and it looked like he might be ready for a one-way ticket to Triple-A. Instead, the right-hander threw seven shutout innings, outdueling CC Sabathia. Since then, he hasn't lost a game. He's 7-0 in his past nine outings with a 1.10 ERA. His K/9 rate is through the roof (11.05), his ERA (3.02) and WHIP (1.10) have never been better and the Tigers sit atop the AL Central with a four-game lead. That's a far cry from last season's near wire-to-wire cellar run.
True, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello have been nice surprises, but teams don't often win titles without a shutdown ace, and there's no doubt who wears that crown in Detroit. As manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press, "From the start of the game to the end of the game, he was under complete control and totally poised. He looks like a totally different pitcher than last year." Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was quick to agree. "I don't remember seeing Verlander that way -- that good," he told the paper.
Right now, Verlander has to be mentioned in the same breath as Roy Halladay and Zack Greinke as a Cy Young favorite. I'm the first to admit I gave up on him too soon, but this Verlander is bringing the Tigers back (Yeah!), and those AL hitters don't know how to act. Take the Tigers to the playoffs!
• Roy Oswalt will not make his start on Thursday, his sore right wrist needs a little more rest. Russ Ortiz will go against the Cubs instead, followed by Mike Hampton on Friday. Oswalt is expected to take the mound on Saturday against the Diamondbacks. "It's not a big deal," Oswalt said on the Astros' official Web site. "I just need a few extra days."
• Stephen Drew has a 14-game hitting streak, after going 2-for-4 and driving in three runs against the Giants, but that was the lone good news in the game for the Diamondbacks. Doug Davis allowed five runs in four innings, and fell to 3-7 on the season, joining Micah Owings and Manny Parra in the seven-time losers club.
• Aaron Harang threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings, but it wasn't enough to get a win, as his bullpen let him down after a rain delay of more than two hours. Washington scored twice off Francisco Cordero to tie the game in the ninth, but the Reds did manage to claim victory with two runs in the top of the 12th inning.
• Carlos Zambrano also came up empty after a solid effort. He limited the Astros to one run and three hits in eight innings of work on Wednesday, but as soon as Big Z was out of the game, the Astros pounced. Geoff Blum drove in Miguel Tejada for the winning run off reliever Angel Guzman in the bottom of the ninth.
• Jorge Cantu had to leave Wednesday night's game after the dizziness that has plagued him all season returned. He told reporters after the game, he believes the culprit is cholesterol medication, he has since stopped taking, and thinks he'll be fine in a few days when it clears his system.
• Another awful start for Chien-Ming Wang, who threw only 69 pitches against the Red Sox before being pulled by Joe Girardi. He gave up four runs and six hits (including a Mike Lowell home run) in only 2 2/3 innings to fall to 0-4 with a 14.34 ERA.
• That puts John Lackey's horrible performance in perspective. The Angels' pitcher got crushed for nine runs (eight earned) in five innings against the Rays -- Carlos Pena touched him up for his 18th of the season -- but his ERA only rose to 6.61, or as we like to call it, "almost half a Wang."
• If Charlie Morton wanted to prove to his old team that they were wrong to trade him, but he didn't do a great job of it on Wednesday. Morton, acquired by the Pirates in the Nate McLouth deal, had to leave after only 13 pitches due to tightness in his hamstring. Maybe it was just nerves in facing Atlanta, but regardless, Morton is expected to be fine in time to make his next scheduled start on Tuesday. Jeff Karstens, who had just been "demoted" to the bullpen, was forced to enter the game, and got the victory with 4 2/3 innings of solid relief.
Jose Lopez, Mariners
Lopez homered twice and drove in three runs to help lead the Mariners to a 4-1 victory over the Orioles. It was his fourth three-hit game in the past two weeks, and he is hitting .364 in his past 11 games, helping spark the Seattle offense. The Mariners are now 20-8 when scoring four runs or more in a game, compared to 9-22 when they don't.
Gil Meche, Royals
Meche got the Royals out of the cellar Wednesday with an 11-strikeout victory against the Indians. Meche allowed only four hits in seven scoreless innings, and won for the first time since May 3. Alberto Callaspo's grand slam helped make things a lot easier on Meche. The Royals have scored only 10 runs in Meche's five losses.
The Mets got 16 hits against the Phillies, including 11 off of starter Cole Hamels, but apart from a double by pitcher Mike Pelfrey, the rest were all singles. By the time the game was over, the Mets had left 16 runners on base and ended up losing in 11 innings, 5-4. Carlos Beltran, Gary Sheffield and Omir Santos each left four runners on base in the game.
• With Travis Snider in the minors and hurting and the Blue Jays in need of another left-handed bat, Toronto has signed outfielder David Dellucci. The Cleveland castoff will report to Triple-A Las Vegas for now, but the hope is that he'll be playing left field against right-handed pitching, instead of the ineffective Joe Inglett.
• "Glad you're feeling better! Now, go away!" That's essentially what the Astros told pitcher Geoff Geary, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, only to be told the team was outrighting him to Triple-A Round Rock. Geary can choose to become a free agent, but with his 8.10 ERA this season, how much interest will there be?
• Kevin Jepsen was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake to help fix what hasn't been working in the Angels' bullpen, which is last in the AL with a 5.82 ERA. Jose Arredondo was sent to the minors, in the hopes that he'll figure out what's missing from his stuff. Arredondo's WHIP in 2009 is 1.64, a far cry from last season's 1.05.
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Tristan H. Cockcroft: I'm not even a Ramirez fan but yes, I'd say he's a top-10 shortstop from this point forward. I said in the preseason and will repeat it now, he's not a .290-hitting, 30-homer guy, but I could see him being the kind of guy who could do either, well, at least scaled down to remaining games. He's just a streaky type, and one thing that encourages me about him looking forward is that he started 2008 a bit slow, too.
-- Full chat transcript
Eric Karabell: Ridiculous situation. Seattle should never have moved him to the bullpen this season lost opportunity that was. I think Morrow is in the rotation by August, and I'd expect some nice numbers. But based on health, it's impossible to know with him.
-- Full chat transcript
Thursday's fantasy chat schedule:
AJ Mass, 11 a.m. ET
Tristan H. Cockcroft, 3 p.m. ET
• With many Triple-A and Double-A teams off on Wednesday, a box score from Class A Wilmington caught our eye. The Kansas City affiliate recorded its fourth straight shutout, and has not allowed a run in a team-record 38 innings. The starting pitcher on Wednesday? Former second-round pick Ray Liotta. The "good fella" went the first five innings, and got the win.
• Lance Berkman is batting .385 for June, but even though he had some success against Ryan Dempster early in his career, he's been only 2-for-21 since 2006 against the Cubs' scheduled Thursday starter.
• For more on Thursday's games, check out the Daily Notes.