By Ashley Dunkak

CBS DETROIT – Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, a perennial All-Star who won the Cy Young and MVP in 2011, approaches the upcoming season with the possibility for a seventh straight Opening Day start.

Unlike previous seasons, Verlander may now have some competition.

Verlander turned in a perfectly respectable season in 2013, earning his sixth All-Star Game selection and finishing with a 3.46 ERA over 34 starts. Compared to the standard Verlander had set for himself, however, it was a mediocre year. He struggled to pitch consistently.

In the playoffs, though, he fit every sports writer’s favorite alliterative label: vintage Verlander. He pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against Oakland; eight scoreless innings in Game 5; and seven more scoreless innings in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against Boston.

Had not the team announced suddenly Jan.9 that Verlander had successfully undergone core muscle repair surgery, the choice of Verlander for the 2014 Opening Day starter might have been easy, for tradition’s sake if nothing else.

Even if Verlander were completely healthy, though, Max Scherzer could give Verlander a run for his money. Scherzer had by far the best season of his career in 2013, recording a 2.90 ERA and 0.970 WHIP to go with a 21-3 record.

Scherzer started the All-Star Game for the American League, and he won the AL Cy Young Award. He also got the Game 1 start for the Tigers in the ALDS.

Clearly, even though Verlander is the veteran favorite despite a shaky season last year, there would be plenty of justification should new manager Brad Ausmus decide to send in Scherzer for the opener.

Incredibly enough, Detroit also has another option for the job of number one starter – Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez was the AL’s ERA champion, turning in a final average of 2.57.

According to multiple reports from Lakeland, Fla., where the Tigers have begun spring training, Ausmus has considered the Opening Day starter question, has discussed it with coaches, but has yet to make a decision.

Ausmus might have to tread carefully to avoid accidentally stepping on an ego or two, but picking between a perennial All-Star, a Cy Young winner and an ERA champ is surely a problem any manager would love to have.


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