"I think I'm anxious," he said, "because it's been so long since I've been able to go out there and pitch and be in a normal situation. I'm really looking forward to getting back into that, getting into that comfort zone and knowing I'm going to be able to pitch. It feels like I've been waiting for a long time. A lot has happened since [my last start]."
The storyline became well-known around the country last October. While the Tigers reached the World Series, the most recognizable symbol of their rise from 119 losses in 2003 to 95 wins in 2006 wasn't playing, reduced to a cheerleading role thanks to his recovery from surgery to remove bone chips in his pitching elbow.
The pom-poms are down now, and his glove is back on. More importantly, his peace of mind is back.
Maroth pitched up to the end of May before his aching elbow finally forced him to the disabled list, but his problems were already prevalent in Spring Training. It forced him to miss one spring start and left others in doubt until he could find out how he felt after throwing. Back then, it was categorized as mere soreness, but the whole wait-and-see process took away from his ability to prepare.
He doesn't have to worry about that now, saying he has complete confidence in his health. That should make a big difference in his routine.
"It was always in my head, constantly, from Spring Training on," Maroth said. "I spent so much time thinking about how I was going to feel the next day [after throwing], or how I was going to feel before I started throwing. It's good not to have to worry about that, not look at that and think about those things."
In hindsight, it was surprising he was able to get off to the start he had, going 5-2 with a 2.45 ERA before giving up six runs in one-third of an inning in his final outing May 25. Maroth believes that the tender elbow actually helped him in his performance, psychologically if not physically.
"You can ask pretty much any pitcher: The worse you feel, the better you're going to do," he said. "Pitchers always get cautious when they feel too good, because then they try to do too much. They go out there, say, 'Hey, my arm feels good,' and they try to throw harder. I was able to pitch. I didn't try to do more than I was capable of, because the arm didn't feel great.
"If my arm feels great, that's something some pitchers try to fight. They try to overthrow the ball. It's always something a pitcher has to fight, whether you throw 95 or 100 [miles per hour] or, like me, in the 80s. Overthrowing the ball, for a pitcher, it almost seems like human nature."
He obviously doesn't want to try to overdo things this spring, which is why he isn't trying to think about trying to win a job. Though manager Jim Leyland has Maroth written in as part of the starting rotation, it's more like in pencil than ink, and it's not without concern. A bad spring, another twinge in the elbow, and it's conceivable the Tigers break camp with someone else as a fifth starter.
Unlikely as it would seem, it's still the first camp in which Maroth has a job to win. He has pretty much been a lock in the rotation every year since 2003, when he was the veteran starter on the staff despite a mere half-season of big-league experience. In 2002, he was a long shot at best to make the club, and didn't earn a promotion until June.
"I still have to go get hitters out," Maroth said. "That's my job. But I know what I need to do to get ready. I'm going to go out there and work on the things I need to make me ready for the season and be able to get hitters out.
"I'm not going to try to overdo it. I'm not going to try to do too much. I'm not going to worry about all those things."
Dingman ready: Craig Dingman, here working out most mornings since the second week of January, says he feels like he's as ready to go heading into camp as he was in any year in which he was healthy. Of course, his injury is one of the most unusual to overcome.
A year ago at this point, Dingman was battling numbness in his right arm, which was eventually diagnosed as a torn artery in his shoulder. He underwent a rare arterial bypass procedure that ended his 2006 season before it ever began.
The rehabilitation process has very little precedence, but one factor in his favor is that there was no muscular damage in his arm or shoulder. Only his pectoral muscles were damaged in the surgery, and he had a rib removed in the process. The latter has actually given him more range of motion in his arm.
"I'm ready to go, man," Dingman said. "I'm just excited to play baseball."
Sleeth update: Likewise, former first-round pick Kyle Sleeth is proceeding as if it was a normal Spring Training, even though he has spent much of the last two years bouncing back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He has found an effective release point and repeated it, throwing all the way into November and then starting it back up in January to get comfortable with his motion.
"I've been healthy since the middle part of last year," he said, "but it took me forever to find confidence in my release point, and I didn't do that until the end of the year. I had no confidence in what I was throwing after the surgery. It's been all new from the beginning. I learned how to throw, and I finally got to the point one day where it just clicked during [instructional league]. It became a natural motion."
Though he's in Major League camp, he's not fighting for a big-league spot so much as he's trying to prepare for a healthy season. Yet, he nonetheless feels like he has a point to prove to the organization that drafted him with the third overall pick in 2003, only to see him fall off the growing list of Tigers pitching prospects.
"I want to show something," he said. "I feel like I've been here for three years and I haven't shown what I can do in any of them. I want to bring back the confidence in every pitch."
Larrison outrighted: The Tigers outrighted the contract of right-hander Preston Larrison to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday, then invited him to Major League camp as a non-roster player. Larrison was designated for assignment last week to make room for reliever Yorman Bazardo following a trade with the Mariners.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.