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MIN@DET: Verlander tosses fifth complete game of year

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander doesn't want to be awarded an All-Star start next week based on last season.

"You're not owed anything in this game," he said. "Whoever's the best pitcher at this point is owed that."

As auditions go, his closing argument that he's still the best option for the American League in Tuesday's Midsummer Classic went pretty well.

As Tigers remedies go, Verlander's latest streak-stopper, a complete-game four-hitter in a 5-1 win over the Twins on Wednesday night at Comerica Park, might have been as meaningful as any start he made over the first half.

Detroit needed a win over Minnesota after back-to-back losses to start the series, not to mention a two-game series sweep at home against the Twins in May. At the same time, the Tigers needed to rest a bullpen taxed by 15 1/3 innings of relief over the previous three games.

The way Verlander put up one quick inning after another, the only work the Tigers' bullpen saw was a handful of warmup tosses from closer Jose Valverde in the ninth once Verlander's pitch count crossed over 110 with his longtime nemesis, Joe Mauer, up to the plate.

Mauer, whose 20 hits in 55 at-bats against Verlander are the most of anyone in the game, flew out to left to complete an 0-for-4 night. Once Ryan Raburn completed a basket catch, Verlander had his fifth complete game of the season.

And on a stormy night when Verlander's first pitch didn't come until 9:30 p.m. ET, he finished off the game in barely more time (two hours, 33 minutes) than the rain delayed it (two hours, 26 minutes).

"That's just what we needed," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We needed a lot of innings, and we got nine of them. I didn't expect that many, but that's a blessing for us."

It wasn't a masterpiece, not by Verlander's standards. His changeup isn't where he wants it to be; it really wasn't where he wanted on the 402-foot drive by Chris Parmelee for Minnesota's lone run. His curveball required a mid-game adjustment, he said, leading to all three of his called strikeouts and a swinging strikeout from Josh Willingham.

Yet it was quiet, cool -- demeanor, not temperature -- efficiency.

"It ended up being a good game," Verlander said. "It's not where I want to be. ... [I] still need to make some adjustments, but it's still nice to have some balls hit right at people sometimes."

On a normal turn, he'd start going about those tweaks on Thursday or Friday, preparing for a start in five days. This isn't a normal turn. Verlander will take a couple days off, then start his routine for an inning or two in the All-Star Game, something he couldn't do last year because he had pitched the Tigers' final game before the break.

Whether he's preparing for a start is another question. He'll have to wait until AL manager Ron Washington selects his starter. Washington will somehow have to choose from a field that includes AL ERA leader Jered Weaver and Chris Sale, who owns a 10-2 record and 2.19 ERA, as well as 11-game winners David Price and Matt Harrison, plus equally dominant lefty C.J. Wilson.

Verlander (9-5) can't match them in wins or ERA, but he owns the AL strikeout lead, having retaken it from another All-Star, Felix Hernandez. And with a curveball he was spotting in any count, to go with a fastball that consistently hit the mid-90s on the ballpark radar before hitting 99 in the ninth inning, he again showed arguably the nastiest stuff in the league.

"Yeah, it would be nice. It would be fantastic," Verlander said. "But I know there are some other guys out there having exceptional years. In my opinion, the All-Star Game is year-to-year. This is the halfway point of 2012, not the end of 2011."

In other words, he doesn't expect to be awarded anything on past accomplishments.

"Yeah, I had a good year last year, but I shouldn't be warranted for that," he continued. "If I get to start in the All-Star Game, I want to know it's because I've been the best pitcher up to this point."

The way he pitched Wednesday, his opposing manager Wednesday was putting him in another category.

"You've got to have the great arm and you've got to have the mentality to get there. It's a Jack Morris-type thing -- finish the game, nine innings," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's a Verlander, and that's putting him in a lofty status as far as I'm concerned. Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame and he was one of the grittiest pitchers I've ever been on the field with."

Seven years to the day after Verlander made his Major League debut, he retired the Twins lineup in order through the first three innings before Denard Span singled leading off the fourth. Verlander escaped the inning on a double play from Mauer, and he had faced the minimum through 4 1/3 innings until Parmelee's homer.

That was it for the damage. Trevor Plouffe singled after Parmelee's homer, before Ryan Doumit grounded into an inning-ending play. Span bunted his way on in the sixth, and a Jamey Carroll walk gave Minnesota one more baserunner before Verlander spotted a breaking ball on Alexi Castilla to end the eighth.

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