If yesterday's win was gravy, a victory tonight to finish off a four-game sweep of the Tigers, who despite the last three games still have the majors' best record, would be icing on the cake. It won't be an easy task, however, as the Yankees will get their first look at the Tigers' young ace, Justin Verlander.
Drafted out of Old Dominion second overall in the 2004 amateur draft, Verlander signed too late to play that year, instead making his pro debut in the Florida State League (high-A ball) in 2005. Verlander dominated in thirteen starts there, then turned it up a notch with double-A Erie, allowing just eleven hits and one run (on a homer) in 32.2 innings across seven starts. That earned him a September call-up in which the 22-year-old looked plenty human.
Verlander won the fifth starters spot out of spring training this year and has since emerged as the Tigers' ace in just his second pro season. His only non-quality start of the year came in his second start when he was roughed up by the World Champion White Sox. In his last seven starts he's compiled the following line: 50 1/3 IP (7+ IP/GS), 44 H, 3 HR, 10 BB, 25 K, 1.07 WHIP, 1.61 ERA, 6-1. Again, this is a 23-year-old in his second pro season. Sick.
Trying to keep pace with Verlander will be Chien-Ming Wang, who has won four of his last five games and got a hard-luck no-decision in his sixth.
The big news on the Yankee front is that Gary Sheffield, as feared, has landed back on the 15-day DL due to what appears to be a new injury to his left wrist. He will be replaced on the roster by Kevin Thompson, the only position player on the Yankees 40-man roster who hasn't previously spent time on the 25-man. Thompson has previously been passed over in favor of Melky Cabrera, Kevin Reese, Mitch Jones and Terrence Long in large part because of an ill-timed hamstring injury, but has hit .288/.380/.453 with seven stolen bases in eight tries and 20 walks to 29 strikeouts thus far this year in Columbus. The book on Thompson is that he needs two cracks at each new level to click, but if that's the case it certainly won't hurt to get his feet wet now in the hope that he could be a valuable fourth or fifth outfielder next year at age 27.
Thompson gives the Yankees five home-grown players who were Columbus Clippers as recently as last year on their roster (Cano, Wang, Phillips, Cabrera and Thompson) in addition to the home-grown fab four (Bernie, Mo, Jeter and Posada), and that doesn't even count Darrell Rasner, a 25-year-old minor leaguer claimed off waivers this winter who's currently in the major league pen. Yes, injuries have played a role in this new style of roster construction, but the times do indeed appear to be changin'. Now if only Thompson would get a couple of starts and perform well enough to bounce Terrence Long when Bubba Crosby is activated this weekend.