Verlander excited to return to mound for Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — If you are wondering what Justin Verlander is going to look like when he makes his belated 2015 debut on Saturday, well, so is he.

"Hopefully, I can help us get a win," said Verlander, who has been out since the end of March with a right triceps strain. "I am not setting an innings goal or anything like that. I will go as long as I can until they take the ball out of my hand."

He hasn't pitched in a major league game since he was beaten by the Orioles in Game 2 of the ALDS last Oct. 3. His last spring training game was March 27 when he felt the cramping in his arm.

So, what to expect on Saturday against the Indians? It's anyone's guess.

"It's crazy," he said. "I was talking to Brad (Ausmus). I haven't pitched in a competitive game in two months — that's essentially my offseason. Then to compress my spring training into two (rehab) starts — obviously I put a lot of work in."

Compounding matters, Verlander is coming off one of the worst statistical season of his career (15-12, 4.54 ERA, 1.398 WHIP).

"A lot of factors went into last year, but there are no excuses," he said. "I didn't pitch as well as anyone would like, including myself. But I feel I can pitch better than that. So we will see."

Before the injury, Verlander was throwing the ball better than he did at any point last season. Through an arduous offseason program, he had recovered his full arm extension, which brought back the late life on his fastball and curveball.

It was throwing the curve that he felt the tightening in his triceps.

"I don't know if it's completely realistic to think I am going to be right back there yet, with only two rehab starts," he said. "It's something that's going to take time to build back up. But my stuff was plenty good enough in my last rehab start to pitch at this level."

Verlander had command of all three pitches in his 93-pitch outing last Saturday in Toledo. His fastball was coming in between 92-94 mph. His curveball was consistent. His slider was spotty at first, but he said it came around later in the outing.

"It's like the start of a new season, so there are always unknowns," Verlander said. "We are not robots. Guys have up and down years. But my expectations are high like they always are. I have done everything I can to get myself accustomed to pitching.

"Now it's just a matter of stretching my legs and getting used to pitching in a big league game again. Hopefully it doesn't take long to get back into that groove I found at the end of spring training."

Ausmus said there was no firm cap on Verlander's pitch count, but he said they would proceed with some caution. He won't be throwing his usual 115-120 pitches.

"I am really excited to get out there," Verlander said. "It's been a long road and it hasn't been easy. I have worked as hard as I can and I got back as soon as I could. At least I can take solace in that.

"Really, I am just excited to get back out there and help the team."