Justin Verlander has been a fixture in the D ever since his arrival a decade ago.
He was drafted by the Tigers in 2004, made his major-league debut in 2005, and exceeded expectations as a rookie in 2006, when he helped the Tigers reach their first World Series since 1984. He was also named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Five years later, Verlander was named the 2011 AL Cy Young Award winner and the AL Most Valuable Player, completing a sweep of the prestigious awards.
There’s no doubt that Verlander has been an important part of the Tigers’ organization, and one that has been absent so far this season.
Verlander left a spring start on March 27 in Dunedin, Fla., because of a cramp in his right tricep muscle that was later determined to be a strain.
He has yet to return to the Tigers’ lineup since sustaining the injury, but on Wednesday he took one step closer to making that happen.
The Tigers confirmed that a third MRI taken in Chicago on Tuesday and reviewed by Dr. Anthony Romeo showed that inflammation in Verlander’s muscle had diminished and he would be cleared to resume a throwing progression.
“It’s a first step,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters in Chicago Wednesday. “He’s allowed to throw. He threw today. He’s not going to be off the mound for a while though. There’s no real set timetable.”
It’s welcoming news for Verlander, the Tigers and Detroit fans.
After struggling last season coming off core-muscle surgery (15-12 with a 4.54 ERA), Verlander had a normal offseason of workouts and physical therapy, and was strong, sharp and enjoying good results in the Tigers’ spring camp until being sidelined by the injury.
The Tigers are off to a good start without Verlander. Kyle Lobstein has filled in Detroit’s starting rotation nicely (3-2, 3.00 ERA). They began the season with back-to-back shutouts and won nine of their first 10 games.
But the Tigers have gone 9-10 since the fast start.
A strong return from one of the Tigers’ most important players in the last 10 years could give the team a much-needed boost.
The throwing progression should lead Verlander to return to full competition, but when that return happens remains uncertain.
Ausmus said Verlander will play catch daily or every other day, depending on how he feels.
His activity will be monitored by Ausmus, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand and pitching coach Jeff Jones.
“We all make sure he’s not doing too much too fast because we certainly want him available for the rest of the season,” Ausmus said. “We’ve got to start building up his arm strength basically from ground zero, so we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
The last two times the Tigers started 9-1, they won the World Series. Verlander has already helped the Tigers reach the World Series twice in the last nine years, and his return will be pivotal in determining if the team can accomplish that feat in 2015.