Verlander will make start for AL in All-Star Game

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What many anticipated became official today: Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander will start Tuesday’s All-Star Game for the American League.

It’s yet another notch for the 29-year-old Verlander, who already has earned Cy Young and rookie-of-the-year awards, been named AL MVP and made five All-Star teams.

“What an honor it is to start my first All-Star Game,” Verlander said. “I’ve been to a few in the past, and some, I didn’t have the opportunity to pitch in. Some I came out of the bullpen. This is an opportunity I’m going to relish.”

Verlander appeared the likely AL choice after going 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA through the season’s first half. He leads baseball in strikeouts (128) and innings pitched (132 2/3) while ranking ninth in ERA and fifth in opponents’ batting average (.200).

He will pitch on five days’ rest — one more than normal — after throwing a complete-game four-hitter in his last start Wednesday.

“Obviously, right now, I’m pretty excited about it,” Verlander said. “Actually, I’m just sitting here looking over the lineup, thinking about how I’m going to pitch to these guys.”

That shouldn’t be a problem, at least if history is any indication: The nine National League starters are a combined 6-for-42 (.143) lifetime against Verlander.

Verlander will start opposite Matt Cain, the San Francisco Giants ace who is 9-3 with a 2.62 ERA. The two, who both debuted in 2005, have not faced each other.

“I get to watch him a ton,” Cain said. “I’m just amazed at how he pitches and the way he goes about his business. He can start off a game from 90 to 93 (m.p.h.) and work his way around a lineup. Then when he gets in a big jam or needs to, he gears back and starts dialing it up to 95 or 98.

“He’s not just doing that. He’s working his curveball and his changeup. It’s impressive to watch the way he goes about his business from the first inning to, a lot of times, the ninth inning. A lot of times, that helps me. If I’m starting that day, I think about, ‘I want to go eight innings or nine innings as well as he did.’”

Cain did that in tossing a perfect game earlier this season — a feat Verlander hasn’t accomplished — but he still wasn’t the fan favorite to start heading into today’s announcement.

New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the 37-year-old pitcher who reinvented himself and released a touching autobiography before this season, leads the majors with 12 wins and has a 2.40 ERA. But Giants catcher Buster Posey, a starter in Tuesday’s game, has never caught a knuckleballer.

Verlander, meanwhile, returns to comfortable ground. He is 9-2 with a 1.83 ERA at Kauffman Stadium. In 88 1/3 innings, he has given up two homers and even tossed his first shutout in Kansas City in 2006.

It was after that shutout, in fact, that former Royals first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz learned that Verlander was the second pick of the 2005 amateur draft, taken after Matt Bush by the San Diego Padres.

“He was the second pick in the draft?” he said. “Second? Who was first? And you better say Pujols.”

Verlander’s Tigers teammates are excited for his opportunity Tuesday.

First baseman Prince Fielder said, “I like it. He is having a great year. He is still the Cy Young and MVP until someone gets it from him.”

Third baseman Miguel Cabrera added, “Awesome. Great. It is a great opportunity for him to start the game. It’s very nice for the people to see the MVP and Cy Young winner.”

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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