Verlander eager, realistic for first start

Right-hander to debut today against Indians

Verlander eager, realistic for first start

DETROIT -- Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander will make his regular-season debut today looking to get back to where he was. But he's not looking at a few years ago so much as he's looking at a couple of months ago.

The Spring Training game when Verlander strained his right triceps was the game he felt like he was putting his game back together. He hit 97 mph on the radar gun at Dunedin, Fla., and he was sending Blue Jays hitters flailing at his sharpest curveballs of camp. Then he felt his arm tighten up.

He wanted to believe he could be back in a couple of weeks. Instead, here he is, essentially starting anew, hoping he can remember what he had.

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"That's why they call it midseason form: You've got to create that muscle memory," Verlander said. "I had a couple [of rehab] starts. First one wasn't near where I wanted. The second one was better, so hopefully that carries over, and hopefully I pick my muscle memory back up quickly."

Even so, he admitted it probably won't be where he wants as quickly as he hopes.

"I don't know if it's completely realistic to be right back there yet with only two rehab starts," he said. "That's something that kind of takes its time to build itself back up. But to be back out there, obviously, I felt the stuff was plenty good in my last rehab start to pitch at this level."

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Verlander topped out at 96 mph on his two-start rehab assignment, but pitched sharper at 93-94. The more encouraging sign for him was the curveball, as well as the slider. Now he has to throw it -- and spot it -- against Major League hitters.

His opponent will give him a good measure on that. Verlander had an up-and-down performance against the Indians last season, from seven innings of two-run ball and eight strikeouts in Cleveland last June to six earned runs over 6 2/3 innings last September. His .239 average allowed to left-handed hitters last season helped him greatly.

His goal this time around, he said, is simple.

"Hopefully help us get a win," Verlander said with a smile. "I'm not setting any specific innings or anything like that. I'll go as long as I can until they take the ball out of my hand."

The fact that he threw 93 pitches last Saturday for Triple-A Toledo gives him some leeway. If he's pitching effectively, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be able to approach 100 pitches.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.