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Ausmus talks three Opening Day starter candidates

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus was surprised it took this long into Spring Training for him to be asked about an Opening Day starter. It was less surprising that there's no answer yet.

"It could be a tough decision," Ausmus said. "You really have three legitimate Opening Day-starter-type pitchers on the roster. You have a Cy Young/MVP winner who's coming off surgery, but as of right now, looks to be on track. You have the reigning Cy Young winner. And you have an ERA champ. So you could make an argument for any of the three, really.

"To say I hadn't thought about it would be a lie. To say I hadn't discussed it with coaches would be a lie. I have, but we haven't made a final decision yet."

It should not be assumed, Ausmus warned, that Max Scherzer's 2013 success makes him the automatic choice to start the March 31 opener against Kansas City.

"It's possible it could be Max. We just don't know at this point," he said.

The one safe assumption Ausmus provided is that all three candidates -- Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez -- would pitch in the opening series if everyone's healthy. That at least means that Verlander won't be held back until later to give him extra prep time.

Besides the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day, the one tangible difference for that day's starter is he'll be the one pitcher to make two starts in that opening homestand. He'll still get an extra day's rest thanks to the April 1 off-day, though a rainout (or a snowout) on Opening Day would erase that rest day.

After that opening week, the Tigers are off for three of the next eight days amid a five-game West Coast trip to face the Dodgers and Padres. That could lead to Drew Smyly or Rick Porcello being pushed back, Ausmus said.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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