“This is a young man who’s never had to deal with NOT being good, at any time in his baseball career… Maybe a gentle reminder that these are the big leagues and you have to constantly earn your keep will suit him well.”

 

Psst, want a sure bet? Looking to take something to the bank?

I got one for you. Sign, seal, and deliver it. Call up the folks in Vegas and book it, and good. Tell ’em you heard it here first — I’m not afraid.

Spread the word. Justin Verlander is bouncing back, like a super ball, from last year’s anomaly season.

This one is golden. You can’t lose. Can’t go wrong here. Verlander is going to make American League hitters pay, and pay good, for last year’s transgressions. Their success at his expense is about to end.

Why am I so sure?

Easy. The kid is good, damn good. Too good to NOT have a bounce back year in 2009. I trumpeted him as a Hall of Famer, some 10-15 years hence, last year and I’m not backing down. I’m not letting a bizarre 2008 season (11-17, 4.84 ERA) dissuade me. Verlander didn’t have his mojo last season, and it happens to the best of them. It just doesn’t happen very often, is all. JV had his mulligan. We won’t see that for a while, I promise you.

Let’s not forget that Verlander is still only 25 (he turns 26 on Feb. 20). He’s allowed a season, this early in his career, when he gets a little frustrated and out of sorts. This is a young man who’s never had to deal with NOT being good, at any time in his baseball career. Maybe it all came a little too easily for him in 2006 and 2007, when he burst onto the scene and struck out a bunch of people and made it into the World Series and was Rookie of the Year and threw a no-hitter, among other accomplishments those first two seasons. Maybe a gentle reminder that these are the big leagues and you have to constantly earn your keep will suit him well.

Then, there’s new pitching coach Rick Knapp, who the Tigers hired to replace Chuck Hernandez. Knapp comes from the vaunted Minnesota Twins organization, which has been a factory of sorts when it comes to young pitchers. I have a feeling that another voice, and specifically that of Knapp’s, won’t do anything to hurt JV’s chances of bouncing back, either.

But the bottom line is talent. Verlander is simply too good to scuffle along for another season. Will he have his dicey moments? Of course. He just won’t have too many of them in 2009, and in the years ahead. And, the more he pitches in the big leagues, the more he builds his arm strength and stamina, which were bugaboos even in his ’06 and ’07 seasons. AND, the more he learns to pitch, both physically and mentally.

Verlander, I’m telling you, is going to be another Jack Morris type. You’ll need a small army to take the ball out of his hands, especially when a big game has to be won. I can also see him developing Morris’s snarl, which was a big reason why The Cat was so successful, especially as his career wore on.

So quit buying those scratch-off lottery tickets. Stop licking those Publisher’s Clearing House stickers. Just put your dough on Verlander having a big 2009.

Count it!

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