January 30th, 2013

Back on the Verlander (World Baseball Classic) watch

wbclogoRealistically, there are two things to watch for with Justin Verlander this spring, but with no contract talks going on (at least from what Verlander said last week), the World Baseball Classic is the one generating news. The latest update came Wednesday from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, who cites sources saying USA Baseball officials are growing optimistic Verlander will opt to take part.

It’s slightly surprising, given what Verlander was saying last week about waiting to see how he feels in early throwing workouts. But with Kris Medlen and Andy Pettitte both reportedly out, Team USA desperately needs starting pitching, and it isn’t hard to envision pressure being applied to Verlander, who played for Team USA in international play when he was in college and enjoyed the experience.

Final rosters have to be set February 20, so Verlander has just about a week of formal workouts plus early throwing sessions to gauge his arm, which he said last week will be the determining factor for him. It’s not simply about making sure his arm is fine. If he’s going to pitch in the event, he said, he’s going to have to be able to throw without holding anything back or pacing himself. So he’s going to have to be ahead of schedule compared to his normal spring routine.

“In Spring Training games, you can afford to hold a little bit back,” Verlander said last Thursday. “But all of a sudden, you put yourself in a situation like that, and it’s pedal-to-the-metal. There’s no holding anything back. When you’re playing for your country, it means something.”

Add in the fact that Verlander began his throwing program later this offseason to let his arm rest after another long postseason run, and even Verlander admitted last Thursday that it should theoretically make him less likely to take part. But it’s hard to tell Verlander he can’t do something.

The Tigers don’t have a say in this one, and even if they did, they wouldn’t try to tell Verlander what to do. The decision is all his, and I expect he’ll get a slew of questions about it for the first week of camp.