Things couldn’t be going much better this season for Astros ace Justin Verlander in his return from Tommy John surgery. As the season nears the midway point, Verlander is in the hunt for another American League Cy Young Award, going 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA and 0.83 WHIP through 15 starts.
After throwing six innings combined in 2020 and '21, Verlander is at 97 1/3 innings this season, which is why the Astros have pushed his next starting assignment back a few days. Verlander, who last pitched June 29 against the Mets in New York, will make his next start in Thursday’s series finale against the Royals. That’s seven days of rest.
Verlander still feels fine, but he knows the Astros could be poised for another deep playoff run and he wants to put himself in the best position physically to pitch into October.
“Just trying to be smart,” Verlander said. “Just trying to listen to doctors and everybody and take as much time as I can and try not to push things. I think at the beginning of the year, I told everybody who’s part of the team, 'I’m going to be honest with you guys' and they’re going to be honest with me. And everybody thinks this is a time to not try to push it.”
Verlander’s workload this year has been more than he anticipated, but for good reasons. He’s thrown at least six innings in all but three starts, and at least seven innings eight times. He ranks eighth in innings pitched in the AL. With fellow right-hander Jake Odorizzi coming off the injured list -- he pitched Monday against the Royals -- the Astros have six starters and some wiggle room with Verlander.
The 39-year-old prefers to pitch every fifth day, but he has managed to do it only four times this year because the team was being cautious with him early in the season. The Astros also used a six-man rotation for much of May during a 34-day stretch with one off-day. Verlander would like to return to pitching on regular rest at some point.
“I plan on getting there,” he said. “I think I did it three or four times in the first half. The only thing I haven’t done is gone repetitious five days, which we were considering before this break. But with [Odorizzi] coming back, we all talked about it and it made too much sense to not do that.”
Verlander has not decided yet, though, if he will pitch in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles on July 19, if he’s selected, which is almost a certainty. Verlander has made eight All-Star teams in his career, including two with the Astros (2018 and '19).