Pettitte, Yanks have utmost respect for Verlander
DETROIT -- Hitters have their own appreciation of Justin Verlander.
For instance, many have answers similar to the one given by Raul Ibañez in spring training when he was asked to describe what it's like to hit Mariano Rivera's famed cutter.
"I can describe not being able to hit it to you,'' the amiable Ibañez said helpfully.
But fellow pitchers have their own take on the Tigers' ace -- who will face the Yankees Sunday afternoon -- particularly when it comes to the rare daily double Verlander achieved last season: winning the American League Cy Young and MVP awards.
"You never really hear it happen," Andy Pettitte said. "You expect the MVP to go to an everyday player, somebody that goes out there every single day and plays, so man, it's a remarkable, remarkable achievement, that's for sure."
"Remarkable" got a workout a season ago in describing the year Verlander put together. He went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA, leading the American League in wins, ERA, starts (34), strikeouts (250) and WHIP (0.92).
"Definitely special," CC Sabathia said of Verlander's 2011. "Unbelievable. It feels like every time he goes out, he's got a chance to throw a no-hitter. He's got that type of stuff. For him to put it together for a whole year like that and dominate, especially in the American League, is unbelievable."
Verlander won the Cy Young Award in a runaway. The MVP voting wasn't all that close, either. He captured 13 first-place votes (Jose Bautista had the next highest total with five), finishing with 280 points. Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox garnered four first-place votes and finished second with 242 points.
Pettitte and Verlander are friends, having been introduced by veteran lefthander Kenny Rogers. Pettitte and Rogers became close when the latter pitched with the Yankees in 1996-97. Rogers pitched with the Tigers in 2006-08.
Pettitte, who from afar in retirement had said he was rooting for Verlander to win both awards, is most impressed by Verlander's arm strength. He routinely gets stronger as the game goes on, with his fastball reaching the mid-to-high 90s in the early innings and staying there. Sometimes his velocity even increases in the late innings.
"You kind of forget how you were when you were younger, but over the last three or four years for me, you start getting around 100, 110 pitches, it's like, for me I'm lucky to break a pane of glass," said Pettitte, 39. "And then he starts throwing 100 [mph] at 100 pitches. It's incredible. His arm is just . . . He's obviously been extremely blessed with the abilities he has."
Verlander, 29, is 5-3 with a 2.55 ERA this season. But as much as he has dominated in recent years, he's mostly been average against the Yankees. Entering Sunday's game, he's 4-3 with a 4.16 ERA in 11 career starts against them, including a no-decision in a 7-6 loss April 27 at the Stadium, when he allowed four earned runs in six innings. Alex Rodriguez, 6-for-21 in his career against Verlander, and Russell Martin, 3-for-7 against him, hit home runs.
Not that those numbers necessarily have anyone looking at this game as an easy one.
"Every great thing about a pitcher that you would want, he has," said Mark Teixeira, 3-for-25 with a homer against Verlander. "That's location, that's velocity, that's movement, that's stamina. Staying healthy. He has it all."