Durability has been a keystone for Justin Verlander's success on the mound, but even the Tigers ace has his limits. A preexisting abdominal injury finally resulted in surgery on Thursday, shelving the pitcher for at least the next six weeks.
If there is a silver lining for Detroit, it is the timing of the operation.
Verlander is still on pace to be ready for Opening Day.
"In some ways, we're fortunate that we found out now," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "Eventually, this was going to happen based upon where he was [with the injury]."
Dr. Bill Meyers successfully performed core muscle repair surgery on Verlander on Thursday morning in Philadelphia after examining the pitcher on Wednesday. Meyers indicated to the Tigers that the operation was likely necessary after reviewing the results of an MRI exam taken by the Detroit medical staff in Lakeland, Fla., on Tuesday.
The injury flared on Verlander during conditioning drills in late December, but Dombrowski said the right-hander did not initially believe it was a serious issue. Verlander was given medication to fight the soreness, but the pain persisted through Tuesday, when Verlander alerted the team's staff while working out at the Spring Training complex.
Without going into specifics, Dombrowski said Verlander's core injury has existed for some time.
"This was not an acute injury that just happened all of a sudden," Dombrowski said. "It's one of those that has been a build up. So throughout the years this is something that was wearing down for him. I can't even say how much it's bothered him, because I've never really heard him say that before.
"But, it's been there in the past. It's not something that just, boom, happened. But the doctor, when he looked at it, he said it was a build up."
Dr. Meyers also performed surgery on Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera in late October to repair the groin and abdominal injuries that hindered the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner through September and into the postseason. Dombrowski indicated that Verlander's injury is similar to the one suffered by Cabrera, who reported feeling 100 percent again after six weeks of rehab following surgery.
The Tigers have a similar hope for the 30-year-old Verlander, who will go through six weeks of rehabilitation before being reevaluated. That timetable extends to Feb. 20, which is two days after Detroit's first full-squad workout this coming spring. The Tigers' first Grapefruit League game is scheduled for Feb. 26 against the Braves, and the club opens the regular season at home against the Royals on March 31.
Detroit is not certain how much, if at all, Verlander's spring throwing program will be delayed.
"All those things I do not know as of yet," Dombrowski said. "When they say six weeks, they think he'll be 100 percent in six weeks."
Verlander reiterated that sentiment on Twitter following the surgery.
Thanks for the support regarding my surgery today. It went well and now my only focus is to get ready for 2014! #determined- Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) January 9, 2014
Last season, Verlander endured a rough season by his standards, going 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA over 34 starts (218 1/3 innings) for the AL Central champion Tigers. Across the previous four campaigns, including his MVP and Cy Young Award-winning season in 2011, Verlander went a combined 78-31 with a 2.95 ERA and an average of 238 innings per year.
Verlander is known for his strong work ethic, and the Tigers know the pitcher will do everything in his power to be recovered and ready as soon as possible.
"There's some questions about whether he'll be able to begin throwing a little before that," Dombrowski said of the six-week rehab timetable. "We don't know that answer as of yet, but he should be ready to go full bore at six weeks and then proceed from there.
"If you proceed from there, you get really close to the beginning of the season for being ready."