©David Manning-USA TODAY Sports 2/14/2014
The Detroit Tigers have yet to play their first Spring Training game in Florida, but the pressing issue on the mind of the media covering the team and interested fans is a decision that doesn’t need to be made for at least six weeks.
That issue? Opening Day starter.
With all apologies to Anibal Sanchez, this is a two-horse race. In year’s past it was a no-brainer: Justin Verlander. If you have an ace, you throw him out there on Opening Day no matter what. Yet for 2014, there are some circumstances that would put this no-brainer into question.
Perhaps the biggest factor is health. Verlander is rehabbing following surgery, and the nature of rehab is that it can go really well and then come crashing back to Earth. By all accounts, JV’s recovery is going very well (knocking on wood as I type this) and he’s on track to be 100 percent by the start of the season.
So if he’s healthy, you gotta choose Verlander, right? After all, you always like to see an ace have an Opening Day start streak stretching over parts of two decades a la Jack Morris. Justin has started every Opening Day since 2008, a streak of six straight which would end if someone else gets the ball on March 31. Verlander is the ace of this team, the face of the pitching staff, and one of the best and most clutch pitchers in baseball over the last decade. A guy with two playoff elimination victories on the road, with ice-water pumping through his veins, certainly deserves an Opening Day start, no?
I have gone back-and-forth on this, and if I had the honor, I’d give the ball to Max Scherzer for this one and only Opening Day. Sure, everything I’ve written in the above paragraph makes a convincing case for Verlander, but it’s not often that a team has two legitimate aces and a pair of Cy Young winners on staff.
I want to reward Max for his Cy Young season. It’s been two seasons since Justin won the top pitching award after all (slacker). Scherzer was the Tigers’ top pitcher in the 2013 regular season while Verlander waited for the postseason to turn it on–and did he EVER turn it on. Still, Scherzer was just as effective in October.
Could they possibly coax a Scherzer contract extension in Spring Training by promising him an Opening Day start? Yes, I know that would never happen, but I need to support my position all I can.
Ausmus won’t have a lot of tough decisions to agonize over this March. Perhaps the first and only tough decision for him right now is to choose between former Cy Young winners for an honorary position. And that tough decision is one that any manager would love to have.
While I’m on Team Scherzer, there’s really no wrong answer here.
Unless that answer is Phil Coke.