The Detroit Tigers announced Thursday that Justin Verlander underwent successful surgery to repair his core muscle and that he will undergo physical rehabilitation for the next six weeks before being reevaluated. Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski expects Verlander to participate in spring training and be ready for the start of the 2014 season.
Verlander also tweeted on his personal account to confirm the news and says he is focused on being ready for the start of the year. Although 2013 was Verlander's worst year since 2008, he was still one of the better pitchers in the league as he posted a park-adjusted ERA 15 percent better than league average and a park-adjusted FIP that was 19 percent better than league average. Additionally, Verlander pitched extremely well down the stretch with his final nine combined regular and postseason starts featuring 62⅔ innings, 11 runs, 79 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Verlander threw 218⅓ innings during the 2013 regular season and has thrown 200 or more innings in every season since 2007, so his durability has never been an issue until now. The Tigers and Verlander seem optimistic that this surgery will not significantly impact his 2014 season, but it remains a possibility that he could require his first trip to the disabled list in his eight-year career while also snapping his streak of six consecutive Opening Day starts.
After trading Doug Fister to the Nationals, the Tigers' starting pitching depth is much more limited than it was a year ago and losing Verlander for a significant period of time could seriously impede their chances of winning a fourth consecutive AL Central title. They were far and away the best starting rotation in the sport in 2013 and by some measures were one of the best of all time, but losing Fister to the Nationals and potentially Verlander to injury will pull them back to the pack.
If things don't progress as planned for Verlander, the Tigers will look to Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez to lead the way, but the key piece might be Drew Smyly, who has never thrown 100 innings at the big league level in any one season. He was already slated to be the Tigers' No. 5 starter, but if Verlander is on the shelf for an extended period, they'll need to lean more heavily on Smyly.
It's entirely possible that Verlander will respond well to physical therapy and will be ready for spring training on time, but for the first time in his already storied career, the Tigers will be focused on Verlander's health.