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06/05/06 6:53 PM ET

Verlander named AL Rookie of Month

Fireballing right-hander posts 4-1 record in May

The Tigers haven't been to the playoffs since 1987. They haven't had a winning season since 1993. That may all change this season, and rookie pitcher Justin Verlander is a big reason why.

Verlander was 4-1 this past month, improving to 7-3 overall, and for his efforts has been named the American League Rookie of the Month for May.

Verlander beat out Twins starter Francisco Liriano (3-0, 1.13 ERA, 24.0 IP) and last month's winner, Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon (0.71 ERA, 9 SV, 12.2 IP), for the honor.

After dropping his first start of the month, Verlander has gone 4-0 with a 3.05 ERA and 16 strikeouts.

"He's a great pitcher, he really is," teammate Brandon Inge said of Verlander earlier this season. "He's got more than above-average stuff. The more you're in the big leagues, the more you come to grips with how things are up here and the more you settle down and actually pitch. He's starting to do that right now, a little earlier than some people expected."

Verlander was called up to make two starts for the Tigers last season and lost both, but he spent most of the season at Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, where he put together a combined 11-2 record with an 0.98 ERA. Though his results in Detroit weren't pretty, the Tigers recognized the young right-hander's potential and Verlander began this season in the starting rotation.

While establishing himself as an effective power pitcher with a screaming fastball capable of topping 100 mph, Verlander has also proven to be a very efficient hurler on the mound, a trait he exhibited in his win against the Twins on May 17.

Verlander, going up against Twins ace Johan Santana, didn't have a single strikeout in the game, but he pitched eight scoreless innings on just five hits and a walk to get the victory.

"He was tremendous," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of the outing. "He was going up against one of the best -- if not the best -- pitcher in the American League. If you don't pitch well against him you've got no chance. Obviously, Verlander did that. He was fantastic."

In his following start, Verlander tallied his first career complete game and second straight shutout, throwing seven strikeouts and one walk on five hits against the Royals on May 22.

Verlander's effectiveness has been a big reason why the Tigers are off to their best start in years, leading the White Sox by 2.5 games in the AL Central with the best record in baseball.

"One of the best arms on a starting pitcher I've seen. Ever," Indians starting pitcher Paul Byrd said after facing, and losing to, Verlander on May 27. "And I've been around a long time. You don't see too many guys throwing 100 mph."

Kevin Fiorenzo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.