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Howard enjoys 'nerve-racking' day

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
PHOTOS: Red Wings at Comerica Park

Jimmy Howard gets some assistance from Tigers bullpen catcher Scott Pickens Wednesday at Comerica Park. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings) MORE PHOTOS
DETROIT – A fastball is like a slap shot. A curveball is like a deflection from the point.

That was the observation made by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard following his guest stint as the Detroit Tigers' bullpen catcher Wednesday afternoon prior to the club's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park.

Howard, who will find out later this month if he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, donned borrowed catcher’s gear to catch a bullpen session with Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander.

“You watch him on TV some nights and he’s bringing it at 98 miles-per-hour,” Howard said of the Tigers’ All-Star hurler. “I was back there at first a little shaky, but he has such great control that he just put it right in the glove.”

Verlander also has a sense of humor, buzzing the goalie’s head with a curveball and dropping a change-up through his five-hole.

“It was nerve-racking there,” Howard said. “It was a change-up and just dropped there at the end and I wasn’t able to catch-up with it, even though it was a change-up. That curveball just hung there, so I figured I better just bail instead of getting hit by it.”

But Verlander, who threw a no-hitter in 2007, praised Howard’s natural ability behind the dish.

“He did a really nice job, especially with breaking balls,” said Verlander, who is 5-4 with a 3.75 ERA this season. “I thought that he would be really good with fastballs, because there isn’t much movement, similar to a puck. But then the breaking balls, he did a much better job then I anticipated. He caught all of them, and that’s not easy to do.

“You see most guys who haven’t caught a breaking ball before and it catches them off guard. He did a great job, but it’s not surprising though; he catches 100-mile-per-hour pucks.”
While Howard held his own, and even impressed some of his Major League compadres, he isn’t willing to catch Joel Zumaya, the Tigers’ reliever, whose velocity is consistently clocked at or above 100 m.p.h.

“He has one speed,” Howard said of Zumaya, “and that’s fast!”

With the exception of the last pitch, which had some definite zip to it, Verlander admitted to holding back on Howard.

“The last one had some juice on it, but I was around 80-85 percent,” said Verlander, whose next scheduled start is Saturday in Kansas City.

Howard was part of a quintuple of current and former Red Wings – Kris Draper, Drew Miller, Darren McCarty and Chris Chelios – invited to take batting practice at Comerica Park. But afternoon rain showers forced the ground crew to roll out the tarp, and left the Wings to take their cuts inside the batting cages underneath the stands.

“This was a lot of fun,” Howard said. “Growing up in New York, I played a lot of baseball with my friends, so to be able to come out here and deal with the professionals isn’t something you get to do very often.”

At one point during his bullpen session, Verlander told Howard to call pitches by pointing different finger-combinations downward between his legs.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Howard said. “I was just throwing fingers down and he shook me off a couple of times, which I wasn’t very happy about. I kept give him the ‘one’ and he kept wanting the curve.”

Howard said that they extended an invitation to Verlander and catcher Gerald Laird to try skating at Joe Louis Arena.

“That’s not going to happen,” Verlander said. “Unless I’m holding onto the rail or something. … The last time I was on something that moved under my feet, I was nine and I broke my right wrist falling back.”

But Howard's certain that he can convince the Tigers.
“I’ll talk him into it,” he said. “He says he hasn’t skated since when he was on roller blades when he was nine, so we’ll get him out there.”

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