Verlander looks to return to starting rotation next week

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was a late scratch from Wednesday's start because of back stiffness but could be back in the starting rotation.

Verlander said Friday that he's feeling better and, if all goes well in the next couple days, he could return next week.

In his second outing of the season, Verlander went 6.2 innings last week against the Yankees and threw 117 pitches. He said he had some back stiffness during that outing, but played through it.

"Tuesday is probably going to be the day; he feels better again today," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Two days in a row, he's come in saying he felt better. We won't know for sure; he's got to know a bullpen (Saturday). We probably won't know for sure until Sunday.

"We have some flexibility with the off day (Monday)."

For Verlander, it's another hurdle on the way to his return, as he had returned from an injured triceps muscle that kept him out since the beginning of the season. He had two rehab starts with Triple A Toledo and felt fine, but the latest setback shouldn't keep him out for another start.

It's a new reality for Verlander, who hadn't been on the disabled list previously in his 10-year career. Although he's had other minor aches and pains, the back spasms were new for him. For him, it's just all part of the recovery process and starting the season in June instead of April.

"I have had back stiffness before, but not to this extent, where I would have to miss a start," Verlander said. "I attribute that to not being out there pitching and not having the process to build up my pitch count in a normal manner and then going out there and competing at that level very quickly. My body just wasn't quite ready for that and it let me know it."

The Tigers don't want to rush Verlander back quickly this time, either, looking to ensure that he's healthy. Skipping the last start was a one measure, but if he's not ready to return, Ausmus wouldn't hesitate to sit him again.

"More than anything, we're trying to avoid him being out for any long, extended period of time," Ausmus said. "He's already missed a significant number of days and we don't think this is anything major, but we want to make sure it's not."

Both Ausmus and Verlander said that there aren't any needed precautions to take, such as limiting his pitch count, but that they'd keep an eye on how he's feeling and adjust accordingly.

Verlander will throw bullpen sessions on Friday and Saturday and if he feels normal on Sunday, he could be a go to make the start against the Pirates at Comerica Park on Tuesday.

"As long as he feels fine, I don't' think at this point, we limit him," Ausmus said.