LAKELAND, Fla. — At this point, no one is betting against Justin Verlander being ready when the regular season starts — certainly not Verlander.
The 2011 AL Cy Young winner and MVP threw for the third time this week, graduating another 10 pitches in the process up to 41.
Verlander’s recovery from his Jan. 9 core muscle surgery has gone as well as could be hoped thus far.
"I felt good," Verlander said. I" don’t even feel where I had surgery anymore. My groin, my hips, everything feels good.
"Just starting to completely forget about it and focus on what I normally focus on at this time, which is getting my arm in shape and starting to refine my mechanics."
Catcher Alex Avila took his usual spot behind the plate for Verlander’s bullpen session.
"He looked good," Avila said. "He’s getting his strength back. Basically, for him at this point, it’s just one day at a time as far as getting his arm strength and his mechanics in check. He’s not too far behind."
Verlander isn’t yet allowed to participate in all of the team drills yet, but that should happen soon.
"I’ve had nine, 10 years of those drills," Verlander said. "I recognize them and I think I could probably do them with my eyes closed.
"You want to be out there with your teammates. Talking to the weight staff and the training staff, — just from what I’ve been going through in my rehab process — it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, just jump into full workouts every day and being on my feet constantly all day.
"I haven’t quite gotten there yet but feeling really good, and I’m thinking about jumping in maybe (Sunday) or maybe the next day."
A younger Verlander might have tried to jump into drills immediately or throw 50-60 pitches, but the current Verlander knows better.
That doesn’t mean he won’t push himself just a little.
"Whatever the number is, he always seems to be one over," manager Brad Ausmus said. "When it was 20, he threw 21. When it was 30, he threw 31. When it was 40, he threw 41."
Verlander just laughed when he was told what Ausmus said.
"One pitch is pretty docile for me," Verlander said. "Usually, I go over by six or seven, but that kind of goes back into not wanting to push too hard.
"Those guys laughed today after my 40th, when I said one more and then (Ausmus) and (pitching coach) Jeff (Jones) were right behind me and they looked at each other and started laughing."
Verlander said he realizes that he has enough time to do everything he needs to do to get ready for the season.
"It’s a dangerous game to try to sit here and say, ‘I’ve got to catch up,’ and try to play that game all in one bullpen," Verlander said. "That’s how you end up hurting yourself.
"So I need to take it as it comes and just do everything I can but not overwork it, and then there’s a time when I can start to really push.
Verlander still believes he can pitch in about five spring games, which should be enough to get him ready to go for the season.
He compared what he’s going through now to what he went through during a challenging regular season leading up to the playoffs.
"It was very similar to this year, where I’m setting a goal to be ready for the start of the season," Verlander said. "Last year, I set a goal to be ready for the playoffs and was able to achieve that.
"So when I stick my mind to something, when I put 100 percent into that goal, usually I’m able to achieve it."