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.

Astros talking to Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole about extensions

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It’s extension season and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros — who already agreed to an extension with Alex Bregman — are discussing contract extensions with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

Funny thing about Verlander, by the way: when he got his current $180 million deal, most people fell into the “oh, there’s an overpay!” column. What’s more, this past winter, when everyone was talking about how bad it is to give guys big long term deals, Verlander’s name was notably absent in the conversation despite the fact that his deal has turned out to be quite good. I suppose that says something about how good the anti-long-term deal folks are at cherrypicking.

That being said, Rosenthal says “it would be an upset” if either Verlander or Cole signed extensions. I can see that. Verlander is locked up this year and has a vesting option for 2020, and a lot can happen in a year or two. Cole is a Scott Boras client and Boras clients tend to hit the market rather than sign extensions. Perhaps their former teammate, Dallas Keuchel‘s, terrible experience on the free agent market this winter will alter that calculus. Hard to say.