Friday morning Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus announced that left-handed pitcher David Price will get the nod for Opening Day. Justin Verlander's streak of consecutive Opening Day starts is over. This will be the fourth Opening Day start of Price's career, the other three coming as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Ausmus made the right call in naming Price the starter. Verlander was at seven straight seasons and he would've needed another four just to tie Jack Morris for the Tigers' all-time record. At some point it would've come to an end as Verlander's career progressed, and the fact Ausmus didn't drag out the process any longer says a great deal about his ability to make a solid decision for the team. Hopefully that carries into the 2015 season.
Verlander had been on pace to get the start for Opening Day for much of spring. It didn't matter. Verlander is coming off the worst season of his career, largely the result of offseason core muscle surgery he had in 2013. Meanwhile, Price has remained dominant, even after being traded to the Tigers mid-season last year. The decision was both difficult and easy at the same time.
"Looking at it from a baseball perspective, I felt like this was the decision," Ausmus told reporters. "It was not an easy decision. Justin Verlander has been an outstanding pitcher for a long time and has done a lot for the Detroit Tigers organization. But ultimately I have to make a decision based on baseball for the 2015 Tigers, and I think I could have gone either way. I could have gone Verlander, Price. But I've decided to go Price, Verlander."
The easy part is that Price is a lock to remain strong. Verlander isn't. After the results of the 2014 season, Verlander has question marks attached to his performance, regardless of whether his results had to do with the injury or not. Price doesn't. Can Verlander bounce back to his former Cy Young self, can his velocity return, can he make the necessary adjustments if the high heat is gone for good?
They're valid questions, ones that have been swirling around for longer than the 2014 season. Now it's time for Verlander to prove that the last two seasons were just the result of injury, or a fluke, or whatever you want to call it. Ausmus believes Verlander will bounce back, but right now the No. 1 pitcher on the team is Price, not Verlander.
"Quite frankly, I hope a year from now Justin Verlander has the type of year that he has to pitch opening day," Ausmus said. "And I do, my gut tells me that he's going to be light years better than what we saw in 2014 after that core surgery. I do think he's going to be better."
Asked how he took the decision, Ausmus said that Verlander "was great. He was, I don't know how to describe it other than to say he was great when I told him." After seven straight Opening Day starts, it still likely doesn't make hearing the news an easy pill to swallow.
A starting three of Price, Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez is formidable, one of the best in baseball. The Tigers need a dominant rotation, particularly in April as five of the first seven series are comprised of American League Central teams. The other two are against the Pirates, a National League team, and the Yankees.
Price and Verlander have become good friends since the end of last season. They go everywhere together, play golf, crack jokes and are largely inseparable. There likely isn't going to be any love lost between the two, regardless of the decision. Verlander is still the face of the Tigers' rotation, that hasn't been dropped in lieu of Price. Yet, Verlander also acknowledged that he doesn't want the start handed to him just because it's been his in the past.
"I want to earn Opening Day," Verlander told MLive's Chris Iott Friday morning. "I don't want to be handed Opening Day. ... I know I didn't earn it. ... I feel like Opening Day is earned, not given. I know when Brad talked to me he said he took into account a lot of the things I've done for this organization. With that being said, you need to prove yourself. I didn't do that last year."
Naming Price as the Opening Day starter for the Tigers was not only a recognition of Price's dominance, but was an acknowledgement of Verlander's struggles, and doing what's best for the team this season. It was the right call. It also doesn't hurt in going a long way to show Price his value with the Tigers before he hits the open market after the season.