Verlander ran the treadmill at a good pace on Saturday and has been cleared to begin throwing next week in Lakeland, Fla. He'll play catch on Monday.
If Verlander's rehabilitation goes as planned, Dombrowski said, the right-hander'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 on 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 naive, but I'm not concerned."
That caution, Dombrowski said on 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 Ausmus are trying to avoid giving Verlander a reason to risk a chunk of the season trying to be ready for Opening Day.
"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. The Tigers will 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."