Verlander says surgery was, 'blessing in disguise'

LAKELAND, FLA. (DETROIT FREE PRESS) — Justin Verlander called it a "blessing in disguise."

It's better for the Detroit Tigers pitcher to have core muscle surgery following an off-season workout than during the regular season.

Verlander threw about 20 pitches off the mound Monday for the first time since having surgery early last month in Philadelphia.

"I did throw off the mound yesterday," Verlander said Tuesday at Joker Marchant Stadium. "Felt really good. Didn't feel anything in my groin, hip, nothing."

Verlander said he has been in contact with his doctor in Philadelphia to make sure he doesn't overwork himself.

Verlander has been diligent not to try to do too much.

"To be honest with you, I've been holding myself back or trying to because it felt so good," Verlander said of his recovery. "Felt there was a lot more things I could do and push and get even more ahead of schedule."

Verlander was injured doing squats in December, and tests revealed a more serious injury than he expected. He felt discomfort on his left side, but the MRI exam revealed a pre-existing injury on his right side as well.

"Evidently, at some point in his lifetime, he had suffered an injury to the opposite side," Tigers trainer Kevin Rand said.

'"It was just a matter of time before that went," Verlander said of the injury to his rectus abdominus, commonly known as the abs. "I think it was a blessing in disguise."

Rand agreed.

"Based on what the MRI showed, at some point he probably would have had symptoms on that other side, had this not occurred," Rand said.

Had the same thing happened in say, May, Rand said Verlander would have been unable to pitch for months. "It would have knocked a big chunk of time out of him," Rand said.

Verlander said the doctor kept asking him whether his right side was hurting, based on what the MRI revealed. Verlander said after the surgery he was told the right side was just as bad as the left side.

"Obviously, you're never happy going under the knife," Verlander said. "It could have been the luckiest thing that could have happened to me, having it go when it did."

"I ended up having core surgery on my right side as well. I didn't injure that side."

Verlander, who turns 31 on Feb. 20, is used to having his entire workout routine mapped out.

He's also used to being a workhorse, having thrown at least 200 innings in each of his previous seven seasons.

Coming back from off-season surgery hasn't been easy for Verlander, who is used to a strict program for getting himself ready for spring training. All of that is out of his control right now.

His plan is to pitch in five spring training games.

"I'm starting to get to that period now in my rehab, as long as I feel OK, do more and more," Verlander said. "Knock on wood, I haven't had any problems."

Verlander said he has experienced some soreness the first time he tries to do new things in his rehab. He gave an example of the first time he went running outside and felt some tightness. "Now I feel completely normal running," Verlander said.

Verlander said he hasn't done "quick reaction" activities yet.

"Just have to adjust," Verlander said. "I'm just kind of treating this like last year."

Verlander struggled in the first half last season. He got to a point where he said his goal was to be right by the time the playoffs began. Then he struck out 31 batters and allowed one earned run in 23 innings over three postseason starts.

"My goal now is the start of the season," Verlander said. "Whether that's Game 1, I don't know. But I intend on being ready."

Contact George Sipple: Follow him on Twitter @georgesipple.


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