PITTSBURGH -- Justin Verlander has been diagnosed with inflammation in his right shoulder, but no major structural damage that would keep the former American League MVP out for more than one start.
An MRI exam Tuesday on Verlander's sore shoulder revealed inflammation and what head athletic trainer Kevin Rand called "normal wear and tear" from the pitches and innings built up over the years, but nothing major. It was essentially the best-case scenario after Verlander left Monday's 11-6 loss to the Pirates after one inning with soreness in his shoulder.
"Really, there was no major structural damage," manager Brad Ausmus said. "At this point, we don't expect him to go on the DL. We're still kind of evaluating what the treatment options are, but there's a possibility he may only have to miss a start and be back with us."
Ausmus did not completely rule out Verlander starting in his rotation spot, which comes up Sunday against the Mariners. However, Ausmus cautioned, "I don't know that it would be in Justin's best interests."
Assuming Verlander doesn't pitch, the Tigers will fill that spot with Robbie Ray, who joined the rotation when Anibal Sanchez suffered a pectoral muscle strain Friday in Toronto. With an off-day next Monday, the Tigers could go without Verlander until next Saturday, when they have a day-night doubleheader against the Twins at Target Field.
Verlander is scheduled to get another evaluation from team physician Dr. Stephen Lemos on Wednesday to determine a treatment plan, likely a combination of rest and medication.
"At this point right now, we're looking at hopefully he'll only miss one start and we'll go from there," Rand said.
The news doesn't necessarily end the saga about Verlander's off-and-on struggles, which returned with a fury Monday night with a four-run first inning off what Verlander called the worst stuff of his career. He didn't feel pain, but he felt soreness warming up, then had little life on his pitches.
The resulting drop in velocity and flatness on movement left him with hittable pitches. Ausmus said he and pitching coach Jeff Jones both noticed a change in Verlander's delivery that worried them, eventually leading Ausmus to pull Verlander and go to his overtaxed bullpen a day after a 19-inning loss at Toronto.
"That would have been tough to swallow if something had happened after I got out there," Ausmus said. "That would've been a lifelong regret if something had happened to Justin. I'm glad that this isn't bigger than what we thought it might have been 18 hours ago."
Asked how Verlander's stuff could be so flat without major damage in his shoulder, Rand said it's a normal occurrence.
"Players go through that," he said. "There are times that, for whatever reason, things aren't clicking together, where they don't feel like they have as much. He just didn't feel like he had everything, so what you do then is you want to find out: Is there something major going on in there? Is there something we're missing?"
That led to the MRI exam Tuesday in Detroit.
"What we saw," Rand said, "is what we would call a normal pitcher's shoulder. It shows the wear and tear of the innings that he's pitched and those types of things. ...
"Any elite pitchers, as they get older, the innings build up on them. And that's why we say an MRI shows normal wear and tear. We compare that to MRIs that we had previously done at other points, and that gives us a feel for any changes."
Verlander has not had a DL stint in his Major League career, let alone a major injury. His previous MRI exams have been done as part of routine physical exams or more detailed physicals conducted before he signed long-term contracts.