January 25th, 2014
No sooner did the headline of Justin Verlander possibly not being ready for the start of the season emerge than Verlander got in touch with Dave Dombrowski on Friday to let him know how he’s progressing in his rehab from core muscle surgery. He has been cleared to start his throwing program, and will begin by playing catch on Monday in Lakeland.
Even before that news, Dombrowski sought to reign in the headlines. If Verlander’s rehabilitation goes as planned, Dombrowski said, Verlander’s status for the start of the season won’t be a question. Dombrowski isn’t willing to guarantee it yet because he doesn’t want to prompt Verlander to push himself to the risk of re-injury. Nor is manager Brad Ausmus.
“All the reports from [head athletic trainer] Kevin Rand are he’s doing great,” Ausmus said Saturday at TigerFest. “I’ve talked and texted with Justin, and he’s telling me he’s going to be ready. But you have to be smart about it.
“At this point, I’m not concerned. The reports have been so good, maybe I’m naïve, but I’m not concerned.”
That caution, Dombrowski said Saturday, was the point of his remarks earlier in the week.
“If it’s a natural healing process, I anticipate him being ready,” Dombrowski said.
The natural healing process means no setbacks. If it happens, it also means no worries.
“I do not anticipate him not being ready,” Dombrowski said, “but I also don’t want him to rush. I want him to make the normal progression.”
Though Verlander has been healthy for virtually his entire eight-year Major League career, never missing a start for injury, nobody knows Verlander, and how hard he pushes himself in workouts, than the Tigers and their staff. For that reason, Dombrowski and manager Brad Ausmus are trying to avoid giving Verlander a reason to risk a chunk of the season trying to be ready for season’s start.
“Primarily, I’m going to listen to Kevin Rand. That’s his area,” Ausmus said. “But from a practical standpoint, I think what you said is dead-on: We’d rather he start a little slow and be sure he feels well. And if he does, he can crank it up the farther away he gets from the surgery date.
“For the most part, I’m going to rely on Kevin and Justin. And we need Justin in be honest. Justin takes a lot of pride in not missing a start, but he has to be honest about how he feels, because we don’t want to push him past that breaking point where all of a sudden we’ve lost him until May.”
For that reason, they’ll have a fallback plan. They’ll have an extra starter stretching out in Spring Training regardless, given the number of pitchers from Triple-A Toledo in camp. With three off-days in the season’s first two weeks, they can map out their rotation to require a fill-in starter only once.
“There’ll be a point in Spring Training where we’re going to have to be sure, or have the insurance policy that if Justin can’t make a start, we have somebody else to do it,” Ausmus said. “There’ll be that kind of tipping point.”
One of the regular TigerFest appointments for those of us on the Tigers beat is Dave Dombrowski’s session on the stage. Sometimes he’ll answer a question from fans with more insight than expected. There weren’t any massive revelations this year, but he provided some insight to the rest of the offseason when asked about Nelson Cruz.
Dombrowski didn’t address Cruz by name, but he indicated that the team is pretty well set.
“I would be surprised if we made any major moves,” Dombrowski said.
That would seem to rule out Cruz, whose status would require the Tigers to give up their first-round pick to sign him. It does not rule out the Tigers from doing a minor deal or two for reinforcements.
“Perhaps for depth purposes, you might pick somebody up,” Dombrowski said.
Most likely, Dombrowski added, such a signing would be a minor-league contract with a Spring Training invite. They’d rather not shuffle their 40-man roster at this point.
The Tigers were linked to Luis Ayala in one report earlier this week. They had some interest in him two years ago as well, before they signed Octavio Dotel. Dombrowski said they’d have interest in Dotel when he’s ready, but he hasn’t resumed pitching yet.