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Tigers' Justin Verlander working hard to recover in time for Opening Day

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The fans hunting autographs Friday morning just outside the training area at Joker Marchant Stadium had an amusing exchange with Tigers ace Justin Verlander about social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.

But they didn't ask about his core muscle repair surgery in Philadelphia last month.

Verlander stopped for a brief discussion with the Detroit Free Press, grinned, said he was in a rush and would catch up with everybody next week.

Understandable since mandatory media sessions don't come until next Friday when pitchers and catchers report for spring training.

But relievers Phil Coke and Duane Below said Verlander has been working hard to be ready for the start of the regular season.

"He seems to be progressing at a good rate, especially for somebody who takes care of himself as well as he does," Coke said. "He's right on track as far as I know, but I don't know the details of his day-to-day or any of that stuff.

"I know what I see, and I see J.V. getting himself back in the saddle as quickly as he can."

The Tigers announced in January that Verlander, who has 137 victories in his eight-plus-year career, suffered the injury during off-season conditioning. The prognosis was six weeks of rehab, but he expects to be ready by the opener.

But you can understand if Verlander, who turns 31 on Feb. 20, and his bosses are cautious.

Despite some struggles last year, he pitched 2181/3 innings and finished 13-12 with a 3.26 ERA, 217 strikeouts and a 1.315 WHIP.

"I see him working out today and busting his butt and throwing," said Below, who signed a minor-league deal to return to the Tigers in the off-season. "I know he's come a long way and it's going to be fun to see."

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