February 22nd, 2009

Verlander likely to start spring opener

Jim Leyland didn’t set it in stone Sunday, but he said that Justin Verlander will probably start Wednesday’s Spring Training opener against the Braves.

Leyland has also said over the last few days that he and pitching coach Rick Knapp would make out his Spring Training pitching schedule the idea of counting out the days from the April 6 season opener, so that whoever they eventually wanted to start Opening Day would be on schedule for that. Verlander’s assignment Wednesday would put him on track for the opener if he were to pitch every five days.

There’s one possible hitch to that plan: A schedule of every five days would include an outing March 12, which is an off-day for the Tigers. So in order to keep that track, Verlander would have to either pitch in a Minor League game that day or, if no Minor League games are available, pitch in a simulated game against a slate of Tigers farmhands. Neither would be a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning to show that it’ll take some work to keep him on schedule. There are two other scheduled off-days on the Tigers’ spring slate — March 18 and 24 — but neither would fall onto Verlander’s track.

No starters have been announced from there, so we can’t project out just yet. Part of the trick there, of course, is that there are so many candidates for that fifth spot that the Tigers have to figure out who will actually start games and who will have to pitch second on most days.

Other items of interest:

  • With Michael Hollimon all systems go for this spring, the Tigers are going to use him around the infield — second base, shortstop and maybe a little at third. That’s a good sign that he’ll probably be the Tigers’ insurance as a utility infielder if Ramon Santiago or one of Detroit’s starting infielders goes on the disabled list.
  • Leyland called Casper Wells a long shot to make the club this spring, but nonetheless, Leyland said he’s anxious to see Wells in games. He’s a big guy who can play all three outfield positions, and makes him unique.
  • Talking with Clete Thomas this morning, I got more specifics on when he should be able to start throwing. His rehab program is scheduled to end around March 23, about two weeks before Opening Day. He’s currently throwing from around 120 feet. He can do everything but throw at this point, including swinging a bat, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gets any at-bats at DH early this spring.
  • Fu-Te Ni is scheduled to leave the Tigers on Thursday to join the Chinese Taipei team in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. That means he’ll be around for Wednesday’s Spring Training opener, but Leyland said he needs to check before deciding whether to pitch Ni against the Braves.
  • Leyland said he talked Saturday with Kenny Rogers, who told him he’s currently being a dad and going to his kids’ games. As for whether Rogers considers himself retired, Leyland said, “He didn’t offer anything, and I didn’t ask anything.”