LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Justin Verlander now has a date for facing actual hitters other than his own. He'll make his first start of Spring Training on Thursday against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Verlander's last hurdle before being cleared came Sunday morning with a 30-pitch bullpen session at Joker Marchant Stadium. He wanted to work through some mechanical issues he had noticed on his throwing progression back from core muscle surgery, but team officials wanted to see how his arm responded after two live batting-practice sessions over the past week.
Verlander fills the rotation spot that Kyle Lobstein held down Saturday against the Astros. That spot gives him plenty of time to make the five starts he said he wanted coming into Spring Training.
If he makes all five starts on his regular four days' rest, he'd also be in line to start Opening Day on his regular turn if manager Brad Ausmus picks him. Ausmus hasn't yet announced an Opening Day starter between Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, though Sanchez's current rotation turn would not seem to lend itself to Opening Day on regular rest.
At this point, Ausmus is simply glad to be moving forward with Verlander in his rotation on any day.
"I'm certainly happy," Ausmus said, "a lot happier than I was on Jan. 9 when I found out he had surgery. The feeling from the get-go was that, because of the type of shape he kept himself in, this is a guy that might have the ability to be back in time to start the regular season. It seems like he's on track for that right now."