Oakland, Calif. — Justin Verlander is expected to move to the Tigers farm system early next week for a rehab start as the next step in rejoining the rotation.
Verlander worked a 70-pitch simulated game Tuesday against Tigers hitters at O.co Coliseum, where Detroit played Oakland in a night game.
"The way I felt," Verlander said when asked about the best part of an outing geared to restoring his place in manager Brad Aumus' rotation. Verlander has been on the disabled list since late March because of a strained triceps muscle in his (right) throwing arm.
"It's the final step," he said. "I'm very optimistic."
Verlander pitched the equivalent of 4.1 innings before reaching his 70-pitch limit.
He allowed three singles, walked a batter, and struck out nine, including a 1-2-3 knockout inning.
"He looked really good," Ausmus said. "The hitters thought he looked good. Jonesy (pitching coach Jeff Jones) thought he looked good."
Asked what most impressed him about Verlander's outing, Ausmus said: "I think the finish on his fastball and the break on his breaking ball. He was better than I thought he would be."
Verlander will report today on how his arm feels following his first sustained pitching performance since spring training in Florida.
"If all goes well," Ausmus said, "five days from now he'll go on a rehab start."
The Tigers haven't determined where in the system that dress-rehearsal start will be made. Triple A Toledo would be the logical place. Toledo plays at Indianapolis on Sunday and begins a series at Columbus next Monday, logistics that would present no serious problem.
The Tigers affiliate at West Michigan, which is based outside of Grand Rapids, could offer convenience, but the team is in Ft. Wayne on Sunday and Monday.
All that mattered Tuesday to Verlander and the Tigers is the former Cy Young Award winner, once considered the most indispensable of players, is getting closer to regular work in Detroit.
"I think," Ausmus said, "he'll be quite fine."
Verlander worked typical innings against Tigers batters and took breaks between his half-inning stints, simulating the rhythms of a normal game.
"I was pleased with everything," said Verlander, as he got a fist-bump from Tigers reliever Blaine Hardy.
Verlander's first stay on the disabled list began March 29 in the waning days of spring camp at Lakeland, Fla.
The strain initially was diagnosed as not serious and Verlander was expected back early in April.
But his recovery was set back when arm fatigue and inflammation forced the Tigers to take a slower approach. He gradually improved, with long-toss and bullpen sessions progressing to a point that Tuesday's game could set up tentative plans for a minor-league tune-up.
The Tigers aren't saying if one or more rehab starts might be in order before Verlander returns to work in Detroit.
Verlander, 32, was pushing for a rebound this season after his 2014 season was gouged by inconsistency and occasional inability to reconnect with his old power-pitching repertoire.
The reason, acknowledged by Verlander and by the Tigers, was that he had not entirely recovered from a sports hernia that required surgery in January 2014.
Verlander made 32 starts and pitched 206 innings. But his ERA jumped from 2.64 in 2012 and 3.46 in 2013 to 4.54 in 2014.
He got busy during the offseason, working on building strength and muscle (he added 20 pounds) designed to make him more reflective of a pitcher who won the Cy Young Award in 2011 and in 2012 finished second to David Price, who is now with the Tigers and who then pitched for the Rays.
His battle plan this season was intact — until the closing days of spring camp. Now, after his first experience in missing extended big-league time because of an injury, Verlander is moving closer to making his debut.