LAKELAND, Fla. -- Carlos Guillen wasn't the only Tiger who had microfracture surgery on a knee last year. But since Clete Thomas' surgery came last June, rather than in the fall, he faces far fewer questions about whether he'll ready for the season.
"I'm raring to go," Thomas said Tuesday morning after reporting to Spring Training.
The bigger question facing Thomas this spring is where, not if, he'll start the season. He at least appears to be healthy enough to give it his best shot.
Thomas nearly made last year's team out of Spring Training before losing out to the more versatile Don Kelly. A nagging shoulder injury last spring didn't help Thomas' cause. He recovered, went to Triple-A Toledo and struggled mightily to a .183 average with 32 strikeouts in just 86 plate appearances.
Something wasn't right -- in Thomas' case, it was his knee -- and team doctors eventually found the worst-case scenario. Microfracture surgery is rather rare among baseball players, but it's a recent development.
To have two players on the same team in the same year have it is obviously unusual, but so is having two baseball players in the same day. Thomas had his surgery on June 4, the same day as Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore. Both procedures were conducted by specialist Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo.
The results were encouraging. Thomas was able to hit and throw by mid-December, and he's able to run now. He should be able to play in games.
Assuming that, he should get a good look from the Tigers, who continue to mention him among the outfield candidates. He's a left-handed hitter with Major League experience on a team with a projected starting outfield made up entirely of right-handed batters. He batted .240 with 77 strikeouts over 275 at-bats in his last Major League stint in 2009, but he did so with seven home runs, 13 doubles and three triples. He also carries the ability to play all three outfield positions.
Because of last year's injury, Thomas has one more Minor League option left. Thus, the Tigers don't have to worry about clearing him through waivers if they want to send him to Triple-A Toledo at camp's end.
Thomas is hoping at this point that everything goes well, because he's due a little good health. Beyond his knee and shoulder injuries, he also had Tommy John surgery in September 2008.
"It's kind of been a rough couple years," Thomas said.
Verlander wants to be at his best to start '11
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander approached his first formal bullpen session of the spring with hints of a regular-season intensity. He has talked about pushing his preparation to be at or near his best at the start of the season, after struggling his first few starts over the past couple of years.
He's meticulous in the way he prepares. Any difference is usually by design.
"You can't work any harder physically than he worked the last couple years," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think it's something he wants to do mentally, and I think he's way ahead of the curve. He's got it figured out. He knows what he needs to do. He knows what he's trying to do, and that's tremendous concentration during his side [sessions].
"I watched him today, and he was just totally locked in. Sometimes, all pitchers -- not particularly Verlander, but a lot of pitchers -- bullpens are just an exercise sometimes. If you look at it like that, it's probably not helping you. You have to look at it as a purpose. That's what we try to emphasize in our camp. That's one area I think he's concentrating on. He'll figure it out, and it'll definitely pay dividends for him."
Valverde holds his own in fielding practice
LAKELAND, Fla. -- A day after putting on a little bit of a show during pitchers fielding practice, Jose Valverde had a warning for some of his teammates.
"[Jhonny] Peralta and [Brandon] Inge, they have to be careful," Valverde said. "I want to play short and third base."
Valverde was the target of some competitive grounders off the bat of manager Jim Leyland during the Tigers' first workout Monday, and he came up with some respectable grabs. Unlike younger pitchers like Rick Porcello, Valverde never played the infield. When he wasn't a pitcher growing up, he played right field.
"It's been a long time -- '94 is the last time I played outfield," Valverde said.
Leyland liked the personality more than the fielding.
"He's a fun guy," Leyland said of Valverde after the workout. "He's really got one of the better personalities I've ever been around. And I guess when you're that big and strong, it's probably a good thing you've got a good personality.
"He's legitimately fun to be around. I like him a lot."