Justin Verlander to make spring debut on Thursday

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Tigers ace Justin Verlander underwent surgery in January after injuring a groin muscle during offseason conditioning and there was talk that he might have to miss a couple regular season starts. But everything appears to be on the right track here in early March.

According to beat writer Tom Gage of the Detroit News, Verlander made it through his final bullpen tune-up on Sunday without any physical issues and has been cleared to make his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday afternoon in Lakeland, Florida against the visiting Phillies.

“Then we’ll go from there, just like anyone else,” new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters on Sunday in Lakeland. “The feeling from the get-go is that, because of the shape he keeps himself in, this was a guy that might have the ability to be back in time for the start of the regular season.”

Verlander, 30, posted a 3.46 ERA and 217 strikeouts across 218 1/3 innings last season for Detroit.

He should be on the mound when the Tigers open their 2014 campaign March 31 against the Royals.

Battle of the Aces: Max Scherzer takes on Clayton Kershaw tonight

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I hope you don’t have any plans tonight at around 10PM Eastern time, because that’s when we get a pitching matchup for the ages as Max Scherzer will take on Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium. When they meet tonight it will be the first time two pitchers with three or more Cy Young Awards have matched up since 2006. That year, and in 2005 and 2000, Roger Clemens faced Greg Maddux. In 2001 Clemens faced Pedro Martinez.

Kershaw won his hardware in 2011, 2013 and 2014, with an MVP award in 2014 to boot. Scherzer collected trophies in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Each has started the 2018 season in Cy Young form. Kershaw is 1-2, but that record is due to poor run support. He has a 1.73 ERA and has struck out 31 batters and has walked only three in 26 innings. Scherzer is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA and a whopping 38 strikeouts to only 4 walks in 27 innings.

This will be the third time that Kershaw and Scherzer faced each other if you include the playoffs. The first meeting was a decade ago when both were rookies. They most recently faced off in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS, way back when Scherzer only had one Cy Young Award to his credit. Kershaw beat Scherzer in that playoff game and the Dodgers beat Scherzer’s teams in the two regular season matchups, with neither guy setting the world on fire. As so often happens in baseball, the hype hasn’t been matched by reality.

Still, there’s always a chance it will. And even if, in the end, this turns into a slugfest, the first couple of innings should at least give us some hope of something good. I’ll be watching.