For those that hadn't checked the line, here's what Justin Verlander's first start in Erie looked like: seven innings pitched, no runs allowed, one hit, one walk, 11 strikeouts. Verlander was locating his fastball well (as it sat in the mid 90's), and used his off-speed pitches effectively in limiting New Hampshire to just one hit.
While it's important to remember this is just one start and it's unlikely he'll keep putting up such impressive numbers; Verlander has now distanced himself from the Kyle Sleeth syndrome that the Tigers feared might happen to Verlander as well.
Last season, Sleeth shut down his opponents in the Florida State League (though he didn't receive the same offensive support as Verlander), but did so largely because his pure talent over-matched the young hitters he was facing. When he was elevated to Erie, Sleeth's flaws were exposed. He left the ball up in the zone, he had a mechanical flaw that the Tigers were worried would cause problems down the road, and just struggled all around.
There was some concern something similar would happen to Verlander, as while the Tigers already smoothed out his delivery in the off-season, he still was a hard thrower who struggled with location. That kept up with Lakeland, and more times than not, hitters simply couldn't catch up to the heat, regardless of where he threw it.
After Tuesday night's gem though, some of those fears can be put to rest. As far as Verlander's status with the organization, Al Avila gushed about the youngster with Erie broadcaster Justin Kutcher last night, and while the Tigers still don't plan on rushing him too much, the possibility now exists that Verlander could make his way all the way to Detroit sometime later this season.
The addition of Verlander to Erie's rotation gives the SeaWolves easily the best rotation in the farm system, featuring Verlander, as well as top prospects Joel Zumaya and Humberto Sanchez. Throw in the often-injured but still talented Rob Henkel, as well as Nate Cornejo, Virgil Vasquez and Jeremy Johnson and have you quite an impressive group of starters in western Pennsylvania.
Of course, unless the plan is to leave Henkel in the bullpen (highly unlikely, though there is some belief that Henkel's body simply can't the wear and tear that comes with the territory of being a starting pitcher), someone will have to move out of the rotation. That someone will likely be Cornejo, as with the Tigers currently riding only four starters, they'll be looking to bring someone up from Toledo anyway. Cornejo, who has been resting as of late as the Tigers believe he took on too much too quick coming back from surgery, has the experience where he can handle the more savvy hitters of Triple-A ball. Henkel remains a possibility when he's ready for duty as well. (Ed. note: after the article was published, the Tigers had string of promotions that resulted with Henkel being promoted to Toledo. Cornejo remains inactive as he rests his tired arm.)
But while questions remain, for now, take a trip out to Erie, Pennsylvania for a weekend and take in a couple games. Besides being a fun downtown, you'll be sure to catch a couple future Tigers on the mound as well.