DETROIT — Brad Penny insists he's healthy again.
The Detroit Tigers are more than willing to give him a chance to prove it.
Penny agreed to a one-year deal with Detroit earlier this month, joining a starting rotation the Tigers hope will lead them to the American League Central title. Penny made only nine starts with St. Louis a season ago before being sidelined with a back injury.
"I was throwing at the end of the year in case we made the playoffs," he said on a recent conference call with reporters.
St. Louis didn't make the playoffs, and Penny left to join the Tigers, a team he expects will contend for a division championship. Penny won the World Series in 2003 as a member of the Florida Marlins, whose staff included Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano and Dontrelle Willis. Detroit's group this year could be similarly effective, with Penny joining Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
Detroit's rotation also includes Phil Coke, a left-hander being moved from the bullpen. The 32-year-old Penny is joining four starters who will be between 22 and 28 on opening day, but Penny will be expected to contribute to a playoff chase and not simply mentor youngsters.
"He's definitely an established big leaguer," catcher Alex Avila said. "He's got great stuff, and potentially our rotation, right now, could be one of the best in the American League. The main part is keeping the guys healthy and consistent."
That has been a problem for Penny. He won 16 games in back-to-back seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006-07, but he has struggled to regain that form. Penny was bothered by shoulder problems in 2008, and he was ineffective in a brief stint in the American League with Boston in 2009, going 7-8 with a 5.61 earned-run average.
"I was behind in the count," Penny said. "If you're behind in the count in the American League East, you're in trouble."
The Red Sox ended up releasing him in the middle of the season, but he caught on with the Giants and pitched well for them down the stretch.
Penny joined the Cardinals last season, and with the help of pitching coach Dave Duncan, he went 3-4 with a 3.23 ERA before going on the disabled list in May.
Although the Tigers only made a one-year commitment to Penny, they're confident enough in his health that they've already traded starter Armando Galarraga.
Penny is looking forward to being reunited with one of his former catchers. Detroit signed Victor Martinez in the offseason, and he's expected to be a designated hitter while also sharing catching duties with Avila.
Martinez and Penny overlapped briefly as teammates with the Red Sox.
"What a great teammate," Penny said. "You guys are going to be really impressed with him as a person, not only as a player."
Penny has pitched in the postseason twice, but not since 2006 with the Dodgers. He's eager to return for another shot at a championship.
"I won one in '03," he said. "That's what I want to get back to. That's something they can never take away."