Verlander Gets OK to Play Catch; Thome Set to Be Bronzed

Heavy rain pours down on the stadium before the start of the English FA Cup fourth round soccer match between Stevenage and Everton at the Lamex Stadium, Stevenage, England, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Heavy rain pours down on the stadium before the start of the English FA Cup fourth round soccer match between Stevenage and Everton at the Lamex Stadium, Stevenage, England, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

Detroit — Tigers ace Justin Verlander is expected to play catch today, less than three weeks after having core muscle repair surgery.

General manager Dave Dombrowski says he doesn’t anticipate Verlander missing any starts this season, but he can’t promise anything. Verlander had surgery Jan. 9 after hurting himself in December during offseason conditioning.

Dr. Bill Meyers in Philadelphia performed the operation on Verlander, who was expected to need six weeks of rehab before being evaluated again. The first workout for Detroit’s pitchers and catchers at spring training is scheduled for Feb. 14.

Verlander went 13-12 last year with a 3.46 ERA for the AL Central champions. He has been Detoit’s opening day starter for the last six seasons.

Thome to Get Statue

Cleveland — The Cleveland Indians will unveil a statue of slugger Jim Thome at Progressive Field on Aug. 2.

Thome, the team’s career leader in home runs, is being immortalized with the statue of him in his signature pose pointing his bat toward the pitcher. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller is the only other Cleveland player to receive such an honor.

Thome said he never could have dreamed of such a tribute.

One of Cleveland’s most popular players, Thome hit 337 of his 612 career homers with the Indians. He broke in with the club as a slender third baseman in 1991 and developed into of baseball’s most feared hitters. Thome had two stints with the Indians. He played with the club from 1991-2002 before signing as a free agent with Philadelphia. He also played for the White Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Orioles before retiring in 2012.

Soccer

City Avoids Cup Shocker

London — Sergio Aguero’s late hat trick rescued Manchester City from FA Cup humiliation at the hands of second-tier Watford, ushering the Premier League title favorites into the fifth round with a 4-2 win Saturday. Liverpool and Everton also advanced.

The biggest shock of this season’s competition was on when Watford took a 2-0 lead after 30 minutes at Etihad Stadium, only for a remarkable Aguero-led comeback by City in the final half-hour.

The Argentina striker produced clinical finishes in the 60th and 79th minutes to level the score before Aleksandar Kolarov put City in front in the 87th. Aguero completed his hat trick in injury time, keeping Manuel Pellegrini’s side in contention for silverware on four fronts this season.

There were no such worries for Liverpool, which beat second-tier Bournemouth 2-0 away courtesy of goals by Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge, and Everton, which eased past third-tier Stevenage 4-0 largely thanks to Steven Naismith’s first-half pair of goals. Tim Howard did not play for the Toffees, whose victory was marred by a suspected broken left leg suffered by Costa Rica international Bryan Oviedo, which could rule him out of the World Cup this summer.

Premier League teams Southampton, Cardiff, Swansea, Hull and Jozy Altidore’s Sunderland — a 1-0 winner over non-league side Kidderminster — also advanced but Crystal Palace, which is battling relegation in the top flight, was eliminated after losing 2-1 at defending champion Wigan.

Snowboarding

Clark Golden at Winter X

Aspen, Colo. — Kelly Clark won her fourth straight Winter X Games gold Saturday night, flying high above the superpipe to edge out 13-year-old Chloe Kim.

Clark, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist, scored a 95 on the strength of one jump that soared 15 feet above the lip of the pipe and another 1080-degree twisting jump with a perfect landing.

Last year, Clark became the first woman to win three straight superpipe titles at the X Games. In 2011, she became the first woman to land a 1080. Olympics-bound Kaitlyn Farrington finished third.

Clark will be among the favorites in Sochi next month.

She won’t have to contend with Kim, who isn’t old enough to compete in the Olympics. Kim scored a 94.33.

Auto Racing

Franchitti Back — As Spectator

Daytona Beach, Fla. — Dario Franchitti was back with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammates at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, in street clothes, a reluctant spectator because of his forced retirement from racing.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner announced in November that doctors had advised him it was too dangerous to resume his career following an accident in an IndyCar race at Houston in October. Franchitti fractured his spine, broke his ankle and suffered a concussion in the wreck.

Aside from a noticeable limp, Franchitti was in good health and spirits.

“The recovery is going well,” he said Saturday during the Fox Sports 1 telecast of the twice-around-the-clock endurance race. “Head’s a lot better, back’s pretty good, ankle is still not great. Quite a big limp, but working hard on the therapy and stuff to get rid of that, and it’s coming along.”

Ganassi watched a portion of the race with good friend Tony Kanaan inside the Ganassi team tent on pit road at Daytona International Speedway.

Kanaan took his place in the No. 10 for Ganassi’s IndyCar team and joined the Rolex lineup, as did Franchitti’s younger brother, Marino.

Having his friends still on the team has helped Franchitti feel like he’s still involved.

“A lot of these guys have been my friend for many years, and it’s kind of a multi-faceted role this weekend: I’m here supporting the team, I’m here supporting my friends and I’m here obviously supporting my brother too, and it’s handy they’re all in the one place,” he said.

Franchitti is making the gradual change from driver to consultant to the team, much like four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears did with Penske Racing.

“Hopefully, I’ll be as successful as that relationship that Rick has down with the Penske organization,” Franchitti said. “Using that experience, working with the drivers and engineers, and just getting to hang around the track with my buddies still, that is important to me, to hang out with the team. This is an awesome team, it’s been great to be a part of it and I’m glad we’re still going to be able to do that.”