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3 to Watch: The Verlander/Strasburg edition

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
If the Nationals hadn't been rained out last Sunday, Stephen Strasburg would have faced Clayton Kershaw Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

Don't tell the boss, but I'd have been willing to fly out to Los Angeles at my own expense to watch that one (and I'd have resisted the temptation to head to the Sports Arena to see Bruce Springsteen, instead).

Alas, it did rain in Washington, and Strasburg will pitch Saturday instead of Friday. And while Kershaw against the Nationals and Strasburg against the Dodgers are both interesting matchups, I'm perfectly willing to save my money and watch them on television.

Besides, with Justin Verlander starting Friday night at Yankee Stadium, I get the next best thing.

The Yankees are a fascinating matchup for Verlander, because they're so good at forcing pitchers into deep counts. That can be a tough strategy against Verlander, because if he gets ahead in the count, his curveball and changeup become devastating strikeout pitches.

But the Yankees sometimes make it work. In Verlander's Cy Young/MVP season, he faced the Yankees twice and ended up with two no decisions. The Yankees limited him to six innings each time, forcing him to throw 114 and 127 pitches, and then won against the Tiger bullpen.

Verlander did beat the Yankees in the postseason, when he was able to turn 120 pitches into eight innings.

Verlander has started games at 16 different American League parks (including the Metrodome and the old Yankee Stadium). The only one where he has yet to win is the new Yankee Stadium, where he is 0-2 in five career starts, including two last October.

I realize there are those who totally discount pitchers' wins as a statistic, and there's no question it is flawed.

You can believe what you want, but I believe it's impressive that Verlander is 24-3 in his last 31 regular-season starts (and that the Tigers are 26-5 in those games). And also that Ivan Nova, his mound opponent Friday night, is 15-0 in his last 19 regular-season starts.

Nova did lose Game 5 to the Tigers last October.

Nova is good, but he's not Strasburg and he's not Kershaw. Verlander-Nova is not Strasburg-Kershaw.

Still, I'll take it. And it's a whole lot easier (and cheaper) to take the subway to Yankee Stadium than it is to fly to LA.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. With all their new-found rotation questions, the Yankees are probably more concerned with how Freddy Garcia looks Saturday. The Tigers may be more concerned with how rookie Drew Smyly looks Saturday, or how Max Scherzer does Sunday. Me? I want to watch Verlander and Nova, in Tigers at Yankees, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

2. Verlander is the best pitcher in the game right now. And if there's a pitcher out there who most resembles Verlander, it's Strasburg, with a fastball that can easily reach triple digits and two outstanding off-speed pitches. So if there's a pitcher out there that I want to watch almost as much as I want to watch Verlander, it's Strasburg, who makes his next start in Nationals at Dodgers, Saturday night (9:10 ET) at Dodger Stadium. Chad Billingsley starts for the Dodgers, which makes this an interesting game for them, too. Billingsley was very good in his first three starts this year, then very bad (nine runs, five earned, in 3 1/3 innings) in his last start.

3. If the Marlins keep hitting -- or not hitting -- the way they did on the just-completed trip to Washington and New York, it won't matter how good or how healthy Josh Johnson is. But the Marlins should hit, and Johnson should matter. He was so good in his last start against the Mets that one scout in attendance graded his slider at 80, the top mark on the scouting scale. Johnson makes his next start in Diamondbacks at Marlins, Sunday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Marlins Park.

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