DETROIT -- A lot has changed for Justin Verlander within the last two years.
The right-hander got married, became a parent and experienced an enviable career resurgence that included a World Series ring.
But when the Astros' ace arrived at Comerica Park on Monday ahead of Houston’s three-game series with the Tigers, he entered the concourse and veered right into the visitor’s clubhouse instead of left. Which still feels weird for the seven-time All-Star, who spent nearly 12 seasons in Detroit.
“There’s some anxiousness and just a little bit of excitement,” Verlander said, sitting in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse. “I don’t think that will ever go away. It’s just something that I was here for so long, just a lot of memories.”
Verlander is scheduled to start Wednesday's series finale and is enjoying the start to another solid season. In 57 1/3 innings over nine starts, he’s posted a 2.51 ERA with 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings and a WHIP of 0.820, which leads the American League.
“He’s very driven,” said Don Kelly, first-year Astros first-base coach and Verlander’s teammate from 2009-14 with the Tigers. “He’s just one of those guys that is driven to be the best and he’s done it forever. Who knows how long he can push that, but it’s pretty remarkable what he’s been able to do.”
In Verlander’s final three full seasons with Detroit, he averaged a 3.67 ERA, including the uncharacteristically-high 4.54 ERA in 2014. But since arriving to Houston at the deadline in 2017, the 36-year-old Verlander has posted a 2.36 ERA. He led the league with 290 strikeouts and an 0.902 WHIP en route to finishing second for the AL Cy Young Award last season.
Houston manager A.J. Hinch credits Verlander’s renaissance with an unwavering willingness to experiment.
“I think his ability to evolve is his best characteristic,” Hinch said. “He’s always changing and tweaking and looking for something to do to make his pitches better … When you get someone who has the back of the baseball card that he has, it’s not always easy to get someone to change.”
But when Verlander takes the mound Wednesday the changes of the last two-plus years will be as prominent as ever.
“I think the first time is always the biggest time, or the most anxious time,” Hinch said. “I think he’s gonna be a lot more comfortable coming back this time. But it’ll still be special for him. He’s forever a Tiger in the history books and in the record books and the fans will always appreciate him coming back.”
• Second baseman José Altuve may not begin rehabbing his left hamstring strain until the end of the Detroit series or when the team travels to Boston for a weekend series at Fenway Park, Hinch said.
Altuve, the 2017 AL MVP Award winner, was placed on the 10-day Injured List on May 11, and Hinch said Monday there currently isn’t a timeline for his return.
“The first thing he’ll do is begin a running progression, and they’ll work with him in the training room and on the treadmills,” Hinch said. “He’s not racing to get out in the cold weather right now. So I don’t suspect he’s going to do a ton of work until the end of this series or even the Boston series. We don’t have a target date. We’re going to let his treatment plan play out and then we’ll work towards getting him back up and running.”
Springer hit five home runs last week and was slashing .447/.500/.957 in 47 at-bats over his last 12 games entering Monday's 8-1 win over the Tigers. He went 2-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored and his OPS for the season is now 1.052, first in the AL and third in the Majors behind the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger (1.258) and the Brewers’ Christian Yelich (1.198).
“It’s good that he get the recognition that he deserves,” Hinch said.