LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander put the best face on last spring when his streak of seven consecutive Opening Day starts ended in favor of then-teammate David Price.
"Hopefully at this time next year, we're talking about me having earned it and done all the things that I've worked so hard to do to get back to being that guy," Verlander said back then. "I'd rather be on the mound [Opening Day], but like I've said many times, I've got to earn it -- and I plan on doing that."
Weeks later, his triceps injury near the end of camp ruled him out not only for Opening Day, but the first two months of the season. His performance upon his return put him in position to reclaim the honor.
With Price now in Boston, the Tigers are Verlander's team to lead, even with Jordan Zimmermann on board. With Verlander's Spring Training complete, his pitches start to count Tuesday night at Miami.
He's already gearing up.
"You see a lot of guys in Spring Training when the season starts that adrenaline kicks in," Verlander said. "As long as my mechanics are good, I think last year I showed there was plenty in the tank."
The Tigers didn't have many bright spots down the stretch last year on their way to a last-place finish, but Verlander was at the top. After a half-dozen starts worth of inconsistent performances upon returning from the disabled list, Verlander posted a 2.27 ERA and allowed a .207 batting average over his final 14 starts, surrendering 74 hits over 99 1/3 innings. His 5-5 record that stretch was partly the result of run support, with the Tigers scoring two runs or less in seven of the 14 starts.
It was a closing kick without benefit. He began his roll with back-to-back eight-inning, one-run gems -- a no-decision in a 2-1 loss at Boston on July 24, and a 2-1 win at Tampa Bay July 29. Just as the latter raised hopes that Verlander and Price could help lead the Tigers back to contention, then-general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed moments after the victory that the Tigers would be sellers at the deadline. Less than 24 hours later, Price was a Toronto Blue Jay.
The Tigers have a fresh start, but they need Verlander to pick up where he left off.
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.