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Justin Verlander's No-Hitter Days Are Far From Over

At this point it's more of a question of when than if Justin Verlander will throw another no-hitter. In toying with his second no-no of the year, Verlander showed everyone that his stuff is the real deal.

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In the top of the eighth inning on Sunday, his no-hitter already broken up by an RBI single by the Angels' Maicer Izturis, Tigers ace Justin Verlander nearly saw the game slip away from him as well.

Two runs had already cut Detroit's lead to 3-2 and Izturis was standing on second with two outs representing the tying run. Facing Torii Hunter, Verlander reached back and delivered his 114th and final pitch.

101 miles per hour. Strike three, inning over. 

Though he didn't get his second no-no of the season, it's hard to believe that Verlander is done dealing no-hitter caliber games with his pitching repertoire. His fastball can blow by you at 100-plus mph and then he can dial it down to a high 70s to low 80s knee-buckling curve on the very next pitch. 

Angels catcher Jeff Mathis found that out the hard way in the sixth inning. After tuning his fastball in the mid-90s most of the day, Verlander gunned a 100 mph rocket past Mathis, then finished him off with an 80 mph curve that left Mathis looking mystified for strike three.

All in a day's work for the Tigers ace. 

Maybe Verlander is raising our expectations a bit high, especially since this was the third time since he no-hit Toronto on May 7 that he's held a team hitless past the fifth inning. In his very next start after stymieing the Blue Jays, Verlander held Kansas City hitless through 5 2/3 innings in trying to tie Johnny Vander Meer's feat of two straight no-hitters. On June 14, Verlander took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning against the Indians, barely a month after the Toronto game. 

Three months, a near-perfect game and three flirtations with a no-hitter. At this rate, we should expect another one right around Labor Day.

Verlander's start on Sunday was something special for sure considering the circumstances surrounding the game. Not only was Detroit coming off a loss on Saturday after Dan Haren pitched a gem of his own, but they are mired in a tight AL Central race with Cleveland and Chicago. It wasn't a must-win, but Verlander's job as the staff ace is to stop a losing streak before it starts.

Oh, and did I mention All-Star Game starter Jered Weaver was on the mound for the Angels?

Weaver was no slouch of his own, whiffing eight Tigers batters in 6 2/3 innings while giving up just a pair of home runs to Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. Runs on Sunday were at a premium, and Verlander couldn't afford to give up too many. He kept his composure and kept his team in the lead. Weaver can't say the same.

The Angels pitcher was thrown out after taking exception to Guillen's home run strut in the seventh, throwing at the head of Tigers catcher Alex Avila on his very next pitch. If there were an award for "Most Obvious Attempt To Bean A Batter," Weaver would have been a unanimous selection.

The fireworks and extended break on the bench seemed to throw off Verlander at the start of the eighth when he threw away Erick Aybar's bunt attempt, which wasn't taken too kindly either. There's an unwritten rule that you don't bunt that late in the game when a guy has a no-hitter, and Verlander seemed rather angry that he had to field a bunt at that point. After a bizarre failed rundown with Aybar that allowed him to score, Izturis broke up the no-no and sliced the Tigers lead further.

Most pitchers probably would have been pulled at that point with two runs in and having already thrown 107 pitches. Not Justin Verlander. He dialed up the heat and blew away Hunter to end the threat, finally turning the game over to closer Jose Valverde in the ninth. 

The win was Verlander's 15th, tying him with C.C. Sabathia for the major league lead. That's more than guys such as Roy Halladay (13), Weaver (14), Haren (11), Cole Hamels (12) and Cliff Lee (10). But it's not just that Verlander is winning; it's the way he's winning. 

In no start this season has Verlander thrown less than 100 pitches. He's thrown at least that many pitches in 42 straight starts, dating back to last season. 

More impressively, Verlander is making those pitches count. Verlander has thrown 181 innings, more than any pitcher in baseball -- Sabathia is the closest with 168.2 innings (in one less start). Verlander has saved Detroit's bullpen tremendously by doing this, averaging 7.5 innings a start. He's hasn't thrown less than six innings in any game this year and has gone at least seven innings in 12 of his last 13 starts.

All that work might be worrisome with any other pitcher, but Verlander is a proven workhorse. He threw 224 innings in 2010 and 240 the year before that, and he's only gotten better. When you're throwing 101 mph on your 114th pitch, it's hard to argue that you're wearing down.

Couple that with the incredibly filthy pitches he throws -- he complements the fastball and curve with a good changeup and a slider that's getting increasingly better -- and you have a recipe for some fantastic starts. It's hard to believe that this is the last time we'll see a performance like the one on Sunday. 

In fact, we might only have to wait until his next start.