MINNEAPOLIS After Sunday, the Minnesota Twins will have played the Detroit Tigers five times. Of those five games, however, they'll have avoided facing Tigers ace Justin Verlander so far this season.
That's seemingly a good thing on paper, as the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young winner is 5-2 with a 2.15 ERA in 10 starts so far this season. But Minnesota's hitters would have actually welcomed an opportunity to take their hacks at the AL's best pitcher this weekend.
"We don't care who we get. We're ready for anybody," said Twins outfielder Trevor Plouffe. "You either want to face the best or you shouldn't be here."
Added center fielder Denard Span: "I don't run from him. You can tell him I said that. I'll praise him all day long, but I don't mind facing him."
Instead of Verlander, the Twins face Drew Smyly, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello during the three-game series this weekend at Target Field. In a brief two-game series earlier this month, they faced Porcello and Doug Fister.
In that two-game series, the Twins avoided Verlander by a day -- his near-no-hitter came one day after Minnesota left Detroit. They'll also miss him by one day this series, as he pitched Thursday in Cleveland.
"We missed him again, but we're eventually going to face him down the road," said Twins outfielder Ben Revere.
Verlander has already thrown two no-hitters in his career -- against Milwaukee in 2007 and again last season versus Toronto. He flirted with his third last week against Pittsburgh, as he took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before the Pirates' Josh Harrison recorded a hit with one out.
The Twins were watching on from Milwaukee while Verlander nearly made history yet again, and they weren't at all surprised by what the Tigers ace did.
"That was pretty impressive," Revere said. "He's one of the best in the game."
In fact, Span would rate Verlander, along with Seattle's Felix Hernandez, as one of the league's top pitchers -- which is ironic, since Span has actually had some decent success against Verlander in his career. In 34 at-bats against Verlander, Span has hit .382 with two doubles and a triple. Teammate Joe Mauer has had even more success against the Tigers ace. He's 20-for-51 (.392) lifetime against Verlander, including three home runs, three doubles, 10 walks and nine RBI.
In seemingly every game he pitches, Verlander gets stronger as the game goes on. While he may be reaching the low-to-mid-90s on his fastball in the first few innings, he'll find a new level in the latter innings and touch 99 to 100 mph.
"He believes every time he goes out there he can throw a complete game or he can go nine innings, and he doesn't slow up," Span said. "He doesn't get tired. He's a workhorse. He challenges you, too. He doesn't nibble. He comes right after you. I think that's what makes him so good."
In his 10 starts this season, Verlander has thrown over 100 pitches in all 10. He's struck out seven or more batters in eight of the 10 outings. He's had three games in which he's allowed zero earned runs, and three more in which he gave up one or two runs. Verlander also has three complete games -- including one in a loss on Thursday.
His flirtation with another no-hitter last week showed that he's seemingly capable of doing so at any time.
"I guarantee you before the season's over, he'll probably throw another one," Span said. "He'll throw a no-hitter just because of the way he approaches each game he starts when he goes out there. It doesn't matter whether he's facing the Yankees or us or the Royals, whoever. He goes out there with the same intensity, and it's impressive."
While the Twins have missed Verlander so far this year, they'll no doubt face the ace again. And when they do, they'll relish the opportunity.
"I think every guy in here doesn't mind facing him," Revere said. "You have to beat the best if you want to be the best. That's something we want to take on. Every single guy in here has a competitive nature. We love facing him, no matter what."
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