LAKELAND, Fla. -- Opening Day starter was one of the trickiest decisions Brad Ausmus faced in his first two Spring Training camps as Tigers manager. This year, he didn't even need to wait for reporting day.
"Barring something unforeseen, [Justin Verlander's] going to pitch Opening Day," Ausmus said Tuesday morning at Joker Marchant Stadium, where Ausmus just arrived to begin preparing for his third year in charge.
The Tigers open the season with Interleague Play on April 5 at Miami. It would be Verlander's eighth career Opening Day start.
Considering an unforeseen circumstance last Spring Training landed Verlander on the disabled list to open the season, sidelined by a right triceps strain, Tuesday's news isn't exactly a guarantee. Nonetheless, it restores Verlander back to his old status atop Detroit's rotation, a position he owned until David Price started Opening Day last year.
The news isn't exactly a surprise. Though the Tigers signed free agent Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million contract in November, they saw Verlander regain his dominance down the stretch last year. After a half-dozen inconsistent starts upon return from the DL, Verlander posted a 2.27 ERA and allowed a .207 batting average over his final 14 starts, surrendering 74 hits over 99 1/3 innings. His 5-5 record during that stretch was partly the result of poor run support, with the Tigers scoring two runs or fewer in seven of the 14 starts.
Verlander started seven consecutive Tigers openers, even beating out reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer for the honor in 2014. The streak ended last year, when Price -- a Trade Deadline acquisition the previous summer -- earned the nod over Verlander, who was coming off a '14 season that was subpar by his standards. Ausmus made that decision well before Verlander's injury.
"My gut kind of said that Price deserved it," Ausmus recalled. "And to Ver's credit, when I told him, he absolutely agreed 100 percent. He was very magnanimous about it."
Verlander was graceful at the time, but still competitive. Clearly, the honor meant something.
"Hopefully at this time next year, we're talking about me having earned it and done all the things that I've worked so hard to do to get back to being that guy," Verlander said back then. "I'd rather be on the mound [Opening Day], but like I've said many times, I've got to earn it -- and I plan on doing that."
He did that before his first official pitch of Spring Training.
"It's a little more clear-cut this year," Ausmus said.