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David Price named Tigers' Opening Day starter

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Justin Verlander pulled David Price aside in the clubhouse after batting practice Friday. A couple hours earlier, manager Brad Ausmus announced Price as the Tigers' Opening Day starter, ending Verlander's seven-year run.

"He told me congrats," Price said, recalling the conversation. "If he lost it to anybody in baseball, he's happy it was me and he hopes I would be here next year so he can win it back. I definitely appreciate him saying that.

"He said it to me like three minutes ago and it was the best thing I heard all day."

Price was convinced Verlander would be the Opening Day starter, so much so he arranged for his family to fly up from Tampa for game two. It will the happiest flight and accommodation adjustment they may ever make.

"I am extremely honored to take the ball on that day," Price said. "It's a very special day in baseball. But it definitely caught me by surprise, to say the least. I thought it would be Ver."

Ausmus, who had been asked about his Opening Day starter virtually every day since pitchers and catchers reported, made the announcement without being prompted Friday.

"It is a tough decision when you have two guys like that," he said.

Especially given Verlander's status as one of the faces of the Tigers organization. He got the ball last year even though Max Scherzer won the Cy Young award the previous season.

"Looking at it from a baseball perspective, I felt this was the (right) decision and it wasn't an easy decision," Ausmus said. "Justin Verlander has been an outstanding pitcher for a long time. He has done a lot for the Tigers and this organization. But, I have to make a decision based on baseball and what is best for the 2015 Tigers."

Verlander, after he shagged balls in the outfield during batting practice, discussed the decision.

"I can't say I am surprised," he said. "I didn't have a good season last year by anyone's standards, especially my own. I feel like Opening Day is something that's earned, not given.

When Brad talked to me he said he took into account the things I've done for this organization.

"That being said, you need to prove yourself and I didn't do that last year."

Verlander and Price have become "competitive friends," and Verlander said that he was extremely happy for Price.

"I am happy for myself right now, too," Verlander said. "I'm working hard to get back to the pitcher I want to be. I want to earn Opening Day. I don't want to be handed Opening Day. Hopefully this time next year we're talking about me having earned it.

"Right now, I need to be good for this team to do what we want to do, which is win the World Series. That's what I am working toward, whether that's in Game One, Two, Five or whatever."

Ausmus said he considered every possible bit of information – including Verlander's history of starting opening day and the early schedule (which by having Price pitch first gives him an extra start against the heavily left-handed hitting Indians).

"There is nothing you can bring up that I did not take into account," he said.

What he may or may not have taken into account, though, is that by naming Price the Opening Day starter, he's ignited a friendly rivalry.

"I talk about earning Opening Day, David earned it," Verlander said. "We are competitive friends and this is going to be a competition all year. I am going to try to outpitch him and he's going to try to outpitch me. And I hope the rest of the rotation does the same.

"That's the type of balance you need to have a great rotation."

Price, who will be a free agent after this season, said though he is honored to get the Opening Day start, he's not looking at it as a recruiting tool by the Tigers.

"I don't think that's why they did it; at least I hope not," he said. "When the time comes to make that business decision, I will be ready for that. Until then, it's not something I will think about.

"I want to stay present every day; I want (my focus) to be here, not looking around thinking about where I could be in six months."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky