Verlander to make Opening Day start

Verlander to make Opening Day start

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Of course, Justin Verlander is starting for the Tigers on Opening Day. They weren't going to hold him for Game 3 or anything.

In the course of a post-workout conversation that included his Spring Training rivalry with Verlander over how many ground balls will get past the staff ace in pitchers' fielding practice, Tigers manager Jim Leyland confirmed the obvious. Verlander will take the mound when Detroit opens the season April 5 at Kansas City.

"That's no secret," Leyland said.

In this case, he'll have a matchup with his friend and fellow All-Star, Zack Greinke, who will be making his first Opening Day start for the Royals. Greinke beat out Verlander, Felix Hernandez and others in American League Cy Young Award voting last fall, but Verlander topped the Majors in strikeouts and tied for the big league high with 19 wins.

Verlander will be making his third consecutive Opening Day start, while looking for his first win. In fact, Verlander hasn't won his first start to a season since his rookie year in 2006, when he tossed seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts in a 7-0 win at Texas.

Though Verlander has had plenty of success against the Royals (9-2, 2.32 ERA in 14 career starts), and Greinke has all but owned the Tigers (11-5, 2.50 ERA), this will mark just the second time the two have opposed each other as starters. Their only other such meeting took place at Comerica Park on April 16, 2007, when Detroit knocked out Greinke in the first inning. Verlander pitched a quality start with six strikeouts over as many innings as the Tigers cruised to a 12-5 win.

No doubt Verlander's competitiveness will be racing for that assignment. But then, considering how seriously he's taking even infield practice in this camp, he's honing those instincts already. After Leyland put ground balls by him in each of the first two days of workouts, Verlander declared that he would not let his manager get another ground ball past him for the rest of camp, even if he had to dive to knock balls down.

Leyland wasn't involved in PFP on Sunday, but he returned Monday to put another one past his ace. Or two, depending on who's explaining it.

"He's supposed to hit it at me," Verlander said. "He hit one over this way. It definitely didn't go between my legs, that's for sure. But I should've caught it. No excuses. The other one was a for-sure out, so that didn't count."

Leyland wasn't letting up.

"Verlander will start Opening Day -- if he works on his fielding a little bit," Leyland crowed.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.