Strom confident Verlander will return to form

Astros pitching coach was 2nd to have Tommy John surgery

September 20th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Astros pitching coach Brent Strom has no doubt that right-hander is going to charge through his recovery from Tommy John surgery and come back to be an effective pitcher at age 39 in 2022.

Verlander announced Saturday that he is going to have Tommy John surgery, putting him out through the 2021 season.

Strom was the second person to have the surgery -- after longtime Major League pitcher Tommy John -- and it’s been performed thousands of times since. The game is filled with pitchers who have successfully recovered from the surgery, many of whom have been better. Verlander is attempting to become the 10th known pitcher to come back from Tommy John surgery after undergoing the procedure at 37 or older.

“Since I had the surgery, the protocols and everything have really improved a great deal,” said Strom, who underwent the surgery in 1979 at age 31, five years after John. “Never would I want anybody to have to go through it. Any time you go into surgery, there are risks involved.”

Strom said Verlander has such strong will and work ethic that the 12-14-month rehab will not slow him down.

“If anybody can come back from it, he can,” Strom said. “I don’t place any age limits on Justin Verlander and his motivation to come back and pitch some more.”

The Astros were hoping Verlander would return this week and then could slot him into the postseason rotation, though they weren’t banking on it. Strom said the return of Verlander would have been a bonus.

“As much as he brings to the table, both on and off the field, the group we have right now was not really planning on it happening,” Strom said. “There was a lot of noise out there on Twitter and a lot of noise in the media about this, and the fact we came to a tipping point didn’t cause any alarm or cause any consternation or anything like that. I think we’re ready to go with what we have, and I feel confident in them.”

The Astros will have veteran Zack Greinke, acquired by the club at the Trade Deadline in 2019, as their No. 1 starter in the postseason, likely with Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy in the rotation behind him in the best-of-three Wild Card Series. Lefty Framber Valdez and rookie Cristian Javier have had strong seasons in the rotation, but they could be used out of the bullpen in the postseason.

“Let’s say we play Oakland, with a very predominantly right-handed-hitting team,” Strom said. “Framber Valdez matches up well with them and also helps us neutralize [Matt] Olson a little bit. Whatever team we face, Framber would be a good choice [in relief]. Javier would be a good choice, particularly against left-handed hitters. A lot of these matchups depend on pitch shapes and things like that. A rising fastball by Javier could play. It all depends on matchups and how we feel going forward.”

Strom is bullish on the Astros in October, despite big losses to the pitching staff. In addition to Verlander, they’ve lost key relievers Roberto Osuna, Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt to injuries, and setup man Joe Smith elected not to play this year.

“I honestly believe, and I've said this before, I don’t think many people want us to get in,” he said. “I think we could be a nightmare for some people if we get hot and some guys really start to come forward. And we’re due right now.”