Lakeland, Fla. — To no one’s surprise, his new manager included, Justin Verlander is progressing so niftily he should be ready for an opening week start when the Tigers begin their 2014 regular season.
“If there are no setbacks, Justin Verlander will be right around 100 pitches,” Brad Ausmus said Thursday as the Tigers got ready for their Grapefruit League home opener against the Braves at Marchant Stadium.
“If he’s up to 100 pitches, Justin Verlander could probably will himself to be Justin Verlander.”
The Tigers skipper’s point: If he continues to gain strength following December’s surgery to fix a sports hernia, baseball’s most dominant pitcher from the past decade could be at the 100-plus pitch ceiling he would normally take into a start.
Verlander last week turned 31 and is coming off a 2013 season that didn’t feature his typical mastery until late in the season.
The Tigers would settle for Verlander being somewhere near his September-October form when the season begins, March 31, against Kansas City at Comerica Park.
Ausmus has made no announcements, but it is possible Max Scherzer, who who won the 2013 American League Cy Young Award, could start on Opening Day, allowing Verlander another two or three days of reconditioning time while presenting the Tigers with a practical path toward two pluses.
Verlander, though, is a co-fixture atop the Tigers rotation. A new manager would appreciate him being at full throttle for that opening series against the Royals.