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Verlander exits start early with sore triceps

@brianmctaggart
March 8, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander was removed from Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Mets after experiencing triceps soreness in his right arm. Houston manager Dusty Baker said the decision to remove Verlander was precautionary, and the veteran right-hander was set to undergo more tests.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander was removed from Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the Mets after experiencing triceps soreness in his right arm. Houston manager Dusty Baker said the decision to remove Verlander was precautionary, and the veteran right-hander was set to undergo more tests.

Verlander, who was hoping to throw four innings in his second Grapefruit League start of the season, was pulled after two innings and 29 pitches. Verlander missed the first two months of the 2015 season with a right triceps strain while he was with the Tigers.

“We got to take care of the big horse,” Baker said. “Like I said, we sent him for precaution and observation, and hopefully it’s not [worse].”

Verlander’s fastball velocity was 91-94 mph Sunday, which isn’t too noteworthy for his second start of the spring. But Verlander touched 97 mph in his first start on Tuesday, when he threw 53 pitches in 2 2/3 innings. After that outing, Verlander was pleased with not only his velocity but the fact that he didn’t have any issues from a groin injury that lingered early in camp.

Baker said Verlander informed pitching coach Brent Strom after coming off the mound in the second inning that he felt the soreness in his arm.

“We don’t know if he is hurt,” Baker said. “Like I said, it’s precautionary. I was surprised his velocity was down a tick from the last time, but you know Verlander can dial it up when he gets ready. We didn’t see anything. I was quite surprised when Strommy came over and told me he had to come out of the game.”

Verlander, 37, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, which resulted in his second American League Cy Young Award. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 34 starts, leading the Majors in wins, opponents’ batting average (.172), WHIP (0.80) and innings pitched (223). He struck out a career-high 300 batters and reached 3,000 career strikeouts while throwing his third no-hitter.

The Astros are banking on Verlander and Zack Greinke and the return of Lance McCullers Jr. at the top of their rotation in 2020 after losing 20-game winner Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in the offseason. With Opening Day less than three weeks away, losing Verlander for any amount of time to start the year would decimate the Astros’ rotation.

McCullers is coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire '19 season, and the fourth spot in the rotation is currently occupied by José Urquidy, who made his Major League debut last year. Urquidy threw four innings Sunday and gave up three runs and six hits (5.40 spring ERA).

The fifth spot in the rotation is a competition among Austin Pruitt, Josh James and lefty Framber Valdez. Beyond that, the Astros don’t have much starting pitching depth. The only starting pitcher they acquired in the offseason was Pruitt, who came in a trade with the Rays.

When asked Sunday if he were concerned about Verlander, Baker said being concerned isn’t beneficial.

“We just have to wait until the results come back,” Baker said. “It’s hard to worry about something that you don’t have any control over and that you don’t know.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.