There were plenty of people who thought the Detroit Tigers might reward Max Scherzer with the Opening Day start in 2014, but they raised a few eyebrows when they chose to go with Justin Verlander instead.
Verlander appears poised to reward them for that decision after he steamrolled through the Philadelphia Phillies‘ lineup in his final spring start, allowing just one hit and one walk in 6.1 innings pitched. He racked up seven strikeouts and retired 16 consecutive batters at one point. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in any of his previous spring starts and has looked more like the MVP version of himself than the one who had a .520 win percentage in 2013.
Both Scherzer and Verlander have been sharp in spring training, and their performance in exhibition games likely had little to do with the decision of Brad Ausmus to go with Verlander rather than Scherzer. The team needed to make sure he was healthy after offseason surgery, and once he showed them he was, it made their decision a lot easier. They have Verlander locked up for six more seasons, and it makes sense they would stick with the guy they still owe over $150 million.
Scherzer has done plenty to state his case — he has struck out 24 batters while allowing just one walk this spring. He has allowed nine earned runs in 20 innings pitched, but the strikeout-to-walk ratio is more of a testament to how he feels about going after hitters this spring. Pitchers don’t tend to concern themselves with holding runners in spring training nearly as much as they would during the regular season.
Verlander has experienced a slight dip in fastball velocity over the past two seasons but has used that fact to spur on the development of his other pitches. He hasn’t lost much, but 1.7 MPH goes a long way when it comes to MLB hitters. He appeared to be tinkering with his approach last season, and he should be able to cope with the lost zip on his fastball a little better in 2014.
The Tigers open the season at home against the Kansas City Royals on Mar. 31. Verlander hasn’t always gotten off to a great start in the past, so it’s good to see him in top form heading into 2014. They have depth issues in other parts of the lineup, but they have to feel good about their rotation yet again with Verlander at the helm.
Related Links: Opening Day 2014: Detroit Tigers Season Outlook