Sunday, July 16, 2006

Justin And Joel: The Pitching Version Of Alan And Sweet Lou?

The Tigers have tried. Oh, how they've tried.

Jeff Weaver. Nate Cornejo. Dave Borkowski. Matt Anderson. Please don't make me go on.

But here's a name that will take that shudder off your face: Justin Verlander.

And here's another: Joel Zumaya.

The Tigers' search for a bonafide starting pitcher and a beastly late-inning reliever from within their farm ranks is finally -- FINALLY -- over with.

Weaver, the darling earlier in this century, has suddenly turned into a journeyman, still in his 20's. Cornejo, who followed him, recently retired -- retired. Borkowski is hanging on with the Astros. Anderson's career was torpedoed by arm trouble.

All of them -- every single one of them -- were once passed off as "can't miss" kids who'd help make this town go daffy over baseball again. But they were takes from the Randy Smith drafts, which automatically put them at a disadvantage, like an infant born to a crack-smoking mother.

So it's nice after those years of false messiahs and over-hyped hurlers that the Tigers present us with Verlander and Zumaya -- two arms who just might forever be linked as Tigers greats, similar to how two fellows named Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker stayed and became part of our fabric.

Don't laugh. Both of these kids are the real deal. They possess not only the sheer ability to throw a baseball in such a way that big league hitters cannot hit it, but they have "mound presence" -- that intangible that, if this were politics, would be called being "presidential."

Ahh, mound presence. It's hard to define. But let's try anyway.

Confident; not easily rattled; veins containing ice water; determined; aware; a bulldog mentality.

All these -- and more -- have been used to try to define mound presence. But however you choose to do it, it's pretty much universally accepted that Verlander and Zumaya possess it.

Last night, Verlander all but toyed with the Kansas City Royals. He surrendered but two hits in seven innings of shutout ball. He struck out batters with a variety of pitches -- some that raced over the plate, others that needed some twists and turns to do so. Throughout the game, Verlander seemed to be able to set the Royals down when HE wanted to; they were merely unwilling yet helpless opponents.

His ERA is now under 3.00, and his record is 11-4. He is 23 years old.

Zumaya may have his moments -- the occasional tater, a bases-loaded double (re: Friday night), an unwanted base on balls. But you can have moments like that when you have numbers like these: 98, 101, 102, 99. Those are some sample speeds of "Zoom's" fastball. And they have bailed him -- and the Tigers -- out of some sticky jams.

Zumaya is one who should be attached to the term "bulldog mentality" on the mound. The impressive part of this young man is his ability to shrug off the bad and simply insist on the good. He has consistently made big league hitters look as late as an overdue library book on his fastball. But he has some breaking stuff that should be written as "nasty", with the word appearing in a sinister, horrifying font style.

Zumaya is even younger -- he's 21.

Goodness gracious.

Trammell and Whitaker were each just a stone's throw away from 20 years of age when they joined the Tigers in a September call-up in 1977. And you know what happened there: they decided to stick around a while. They are generally acknowledged as being the greatest double play combination in baseball history.

Zumaya and Verlander. Verlander and Zumaya. Will they forever be attached to the hip as longtime Tigers?

Hundreds of big league batters would have me bite my tongue.


Blogger Ozz said...

I think you might be right!

2:01 PM  

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