As far as pitching matchups are concerned, they don't come much better than the one tabbed for Thursday's series opener between the Rangers and Tigers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Former American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner, as well as back-to-back Major League strikeout king, Justin Verlander will toe the rubber for Detroit opposite current K's leader Yu Darvish. Verlander is off to a 4-3 start with a 1.93 ERA, while Darvish sits at 6-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his second big league season.
"Those two guys are pretty impressive. You talk about Verlander: Cy Young, MVP. He's really good, look at history," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. "And then you look at Yu Darvish. Last year, he was really good, and this year, he's a lot smarter. And I definitely think that Yu Darvish has some of the nastiest stuff in the game. So it's going to boil down to who executes the right way, fundamentally sound baseball, and it's going to be not too many runs scored in that game."
There may not be many runs expected, but there figures to be plenty of strikeouts.
No pitcher struck out more batters in 2011-12 than Verlander. The hard-throwing righty tallied 250 strikeouts in '11 and followed with 239 last season.
Yet through eight starts in 2013, Darvish has used his wide array of pitches to ring up a Major League-best 80 hitters over 52 2/3 innings. Verlander, meanwhile, has tallied just 57 whiffs in his 51 1/3 innings.
"They are different type of pitchers," Rangers skipper Ron Washington said. "Verlander is definitely categorized as a power type of pitcher. Yes, he has a changeup, and yes, he has a curveball, but when he has to get you, he rears back and lets it go. Yu Darvish is a combination of power and finesse. He can manipulate the ball as well as anybody, but he can also power it up. He can get you out with a lot of movement, and his movement is in four different directions."
In his first big league season after spending seven years pitching in Japan, Darvish faced -- and defeated -- the Tigers on three occasions last season, though he never squared off against Verlander. Now, as he prepares to face the perennial Cy Young Award contender for the first time, Darvish insists he isn't looking forward to Thursday's start more than any other.
"Not particularly, because I won't be hitting against him," Darvish said. "If that were the case, I'd be looking forward to it. I'm just going to be pitching, and I'm focused on pitching my game."
Verlander echoed a similar sentiment, pointing out as he often does that he does not pitch against the opposing starter. Instead, Verlander is focused on slowing down a Rangers team that has won six of its past seven games, while averaging 6.7 runs per game during those victories.
"I'm just looking for us to beat Verlander," Washington said. "If they both have their stuff, it will come down to the team that gets an opportunity and takes advantage of it or the team that makes the first mistake. If neither have their stuff, there will be a lot of runs put on the board."
Tigers: Valverde easing into pitching shape
Though Jose Valverde has pitched well for the most part since returning to the mound with the Tigers, the club is still working toward getting Valverde into shape.
Valverde has converted three of his four save opportunities and sports a 1.29 ERA through seven appearances. Still, manager Jim Leyland has also been trying to get Valverde some work in non-save situations, considering the 35-year-old closer missed out entirely on Spring Training while waiting for a team to give him a chance.
"We think we need to get him in better pitching shape -- not physical shape," Leyland said after using Valverde to close out a 6-2 victory on Tuesday. "He looks good physically. He's not too heavy or out of shape. … Valverde's in good shape, but not probably pitching shape. We felt like it's important to get him out there and pitch him a little bit, continue to build the arm strength up."
Rangers: Moreland on a roll at the plate
First baseman Mitch Moreland went hitless Wednesday for just the second time in the past 12 games. Moreland remains on a torrid pace since May 3, hitting .370 (17-for-46) with six home runs during that 12-game stretch.
"I'm just going up there trying to have good at-bats and get a good pitch to hit," Moreland said. "I've been able to do that so far, hopefully I can keep doing it. If you stay with your approach and work at getting a good pitch and get the barrel to it, the home runs will come. It's not something you try to do. Not many guys go up to the plate trying to hit home runs and actually do it."
• Hunter is 6-for-18 in his career against Darvish. The six hits are tied for the second most by any player against Darvish, one behind the Angels' Alberto Callaspo (7-for-16).
• The Rangers are 9-2 in one-run games this season, while the Tigers are just 3-6 in one-run affairs.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.