Verlander throws 41 pitches in bullpen session

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander threw 41 pitches in his first official bullpen session of spring training.

Verlander is recovering from surgery on his abdomen in early January. He’s trying to tone it down this spring and Tigers rookie manager Brad Ausmus says Verlander is mostly setting his own pace.

”I feel really good,” Verlander said. ”I don’t feel any pain but I am just taking everything in stride. Everything is on track for Opening Day.”

Verlander was slated to throw 40 pitches Saturday, but instead threw 41.

It’s the third time Verlander has thrown off the mound since coming in ahead of the official pitchers and catchers reporting date, but it is the longest stint he’s had.

Verlander went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA for the Tigers last season, but struggled early. He came on strong toward the end of the season and was sensational in the playoffs.

He was the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player award winner in 2011 and signed a seven-year, $180 million contract extension last spring. He’s also pitched on six American League all-star teams.

”I don’t see anything to worry about,” Ausmus said. ”I didn’t see anything that jumped out as good and nothing that looked bad. He’s on track to be where he needs to be.”

Verlander, who has a friendly rivalry with Tigers teammate Max Scherzer, said he is ready to rebound from what he considered a down season. Scherzer went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA for the Tigers last year and won the Cy Young Award.

”Last year I came back at the end,” Verlander said, ”so I salvaged a good year but I have to be the best. I hear from the trainers that I am a quick healer so I am just going about my business.”

NOTES: Former all-star shortstop Omar Vizquel has been working on fielding and base running this spring. He is the new Tigers first base coach and Ausmus said he never considered Vizquel for the position until he got calls of recommendation from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez during the off-season . Former Tigers starter Kenny Rogers will join the team in mid-March as a special instructor . Ausmus hinted strongly that he expects 12 pitchers to head north, including seven relievers. He said there are some locks for the spots, but a few available openings . All position players are expected to be in camp on Tuesday.OF Andy Dirks is causing a scene with his extra-long hair. Ausmus, who was once with the very strict New York Yankees organization that frowned upon such things, said he doesn’t care what Dirks looks like. ”If he plays well he can grow it down to his feet as far as I’m concerned.”