Justin Verlander's early returns

Updated: March 28, 2011, 11:11 AM ET
By Buster Olney

The first time Justin Verlander started this spring, he tried two pickoff moves -- nailing the Yankees' Russell Martin on his second try -- and spun a 3-2 curveball to Alex Rodriguez, something that veterans really don't do early in camp.

But, as Verlander explained the next day, he was on a mission. He has often started slowly in April, with a career ERA over 5.00 for the month, so he wanted to go into the season at full speed in the way that he pitched, that he competed, that he felt.

Verlander will make the first start of the season in about 72 hours against the Yankees on Thursday, but he looks as though he has achieved what he set out to accomplish. He has a spring ERA of 0.96, and rival scouts are raving about how good the Tigers' ace looks, how focused and how precise his command are.

Verlander made six starts in spring training, worked 28 innings, walked three and struck out 23 while allowing just one home run. A new teammate had very high praise for him on Sunday, Tom Gage reports. Said Brad Penny:

"That might be the best spring I've ever seen out of a pitcher. He has to be feeling really good and confident. He had no hiccups. But he came in with a plan. I haven't seen too many guys do that -- other than to get their work in."

The golden ticket