All things considered, this opener was special for Verlander

DETROIT — Justin Verlander never gets tired of pitching at Comerica Park on Opening Day.

He enjoyed it even more than usual Monday.

"Opening Day is always great, but this year was really special for me," said Verlander, who started the Tigers’ opener for the seventh straight season. "I really had to work hard and grind to get back for this after having my (sports hernia) surgery, so I had some extra feelings when I took the mound this time."

The second-biggest crowd in Comerica Park history appreciated what Verlander had done as well, giving him huge ovations during pregame introductions and before his first pitch.

"The fans here are just fantastic," he said. "I always love pitching here because of them, but today was even better. That meant a lot to me."

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It wasn’t a brilliant outing by Verlander — he allowed three runs in his six innings, including a bases-loaded walk of former teammate Omar Infante — but it was awfully good for someone who wasn’t even sure he’d be ready for the start of the season.

"He threw well," new manager Brad Ausmus said. "That was as good as we’ve seen since his first appearance of spring training."

Verlander agreed, even though he wasn’t as overpowering as he expects to be later in the year. He struck out only two batters.

"It felt great," he said. "I was strong, and I had all the pitches I needed. My only problem was the fourth, when they got the three runs off me.

"I never had a really long inning in spring training, and you need a couple of those in order to be able to keep your rhythm. I lost it for a couple batters there, and they got to me."

Verlander finished with two scoreless innings, then ran into his second problem of the day. He knew that, having thrown 105 pitches, he was almost certainly done for the day.

Jim Leyland wasn’t there this time to give him the handshake that made it official. Instead, Ausmus was nowhere to be found.

"I was pretty sure I was done because I hadn’t gotten past 86 pitches in spring training," Verlander said. "But it was a little different because Leyland was always at the bottom of the dugout steps with that handshake.

"I’m going to have to figure out Brad’s tells. I don’t know how he does things yet."

Verlander’s perfectly happy to be solving mysteries like that this season, especially after spending most of last year searching for the flaw in his mechanics.

Now he just needs that elusive Opening Day win.

"I never seem to find one of those," Verlander said. "I’ve got one in my entire career, and I only pitched five innings in that one.

"The important thing, though, is that we got the win in the end. The bullpen was lights out, and the offense came up with a couple big hits late. That makes it a great Opening Day."