Justin Verlander: Injury 'a blessing'

Justin Verlander threw off a mound Monday for the first time since having surgery on his abdominals, an injury he called "a blessing in disguise."

The Detroit Tigers right-hander said he threw about 20 pitches in Lakeland, Fla. He expects to make five starts in spring training and hopes to be ready for Opening Day.

"Felt really good," Verlander told reporters of the mound session. "Didn't feel anything in my groin, hip, nothing.

"My goal now is the start of the season. Whether that's Game 1, I don't know. But I intend on being ready."

Verlander injured his core doing squats in December. He originally felt pain on his left side, but an MRI also showed weakening on the right side, and he ended up having surgery in Philadelphia.

The 2011 Cy Young Award winner was happy the injury was detected well before the start of the season; had it occurred during the regular season, he likely would have missed about two months.

"Obviously, you're never happy going under the knife," Verlander told reporters. "It could have been the luckiest thing that could have happened to me, having it go when it did."

Verlander, who went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA last year and has thrown more than 200 innings in seven straight seasons, said he's pleased with his recovery despite occasional soreness.

"To be honest with you, I've been holding myself back, or trying to, because it felt so good," Verlander, who turns 31 on Feb. 20, told reporters. "Felt there was a lot more things I could do and push and get even more ahead of schedule.

"I'm starting to get to that period now in my rehab, as long as I feel OK, do more and more. Knock on wood, I haven't had any problems."