Verlander adds to Cy Young resume with another stellar outing

September 29th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander isn’t sure when he’ll have time to look back upon his terrific 2022 season, one that could wind up with him winning his third American League Cy Young Award. Verlander has one start remaining to close his case, but even a hiccup in his final start wouldn’t stain what’s been a remarkable campaign.

Verlander, at 39 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery, helped his cause Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park in a 5-2 loss to the D-backs in 10 innings. He threw seven innings and allowed two runs (one earned), six hits and one walk while striking out eight batters to lower his ERA to 1.80 in 170 innings pitched.

The loss kept the Astros’ magic number to clinch the top seed in the American League at one over the Yankees.

Back to Verlander. He didn’t pick up a decision Wednesday, but he still leads the AL in wins (17), ERA, opponents’ OPS (.508), WHIP (0.85) and hits per nine innings (6.14).

“I see the numbers,” Verlander said. “I know what’s happening. I know how good the season is, but on the other side of that, when you’re in the middle of it, I don’t think you really truly appreciate what’s happening. I’ve talked at length this year about my perspective from being away from the game and being with my family and being more in the moment and I feel that’s kind of helped me to embrace and see what’s happening.

“But at the same time, it’s like ‘Alright, we have a bigger goal.’ We have a team goal. We want to make the playoffs, we want to go deep into the playoffs, we want to win a championship. There’s really no time to sit back. You can’t do it in-season anyway -- put your feet up and enjoy it. In this game, if you become complacent, it lets you know. I definitely will not do that.”

After his final start of the regular season, which will come next week in Houston against the Phillies, Verlander said he’ll turn his attention to the postseason. He wants to make sure he’s at the peak of his game, so there’s no time for regular-season reflection.

“The second I’m done with that, it’s ‘How do I feel and is that where I’m going to be going into the playoffs?’” he said. “I’m very happy, obviously. I worked extremely hard to be here. And it’s nice to put up the regular-season numbers. I do appreciate it.”

Astros manager Dusty Baker said catcher Martín Maldonado told him Verlander’s stuff coming out of the bullpen was terrific. That didn’t stop the D-backs from putting up two runs in the first inning, thanks, in part, to a couple of infield hits and a passed ball. 

Verlander settled in after that, and the Astros tied the game in the fifth when Chas McCormick hit a two-run homer off Arizona starter Zac Gallen. Verlander shouted and pumped his first when he struck out Pavin Smith to end the seventh on a 97.1 fastball on his fastest pitch -- and 101st and last pitch of the game.

“That first inning unraveled the way it did, it was a tough inning,” Verlander said. “I was happy to be back in the game after Chas’ home run and then you find yourself in there in the middle of a pitchers' duel. You kind of know that if they score again it’s probably going to be 'game over' or at least going to put us in a tough spot. ... That’s why I was so amped up, just a big spot in the game to keep the momentum on our side. I’ve got to tip my cap to Zac to come out in the next inning and shut us down. It was a well-fought game.”

Wednesday was Verlander’s third start since he spent 15 days on the injured list with a right calf injury and he said he’s not as dialed in yet as he was pre-injury. You wouldn't know it. In those three outings, he has a 1.50 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 18 innings.

“I don’t feel like there's any major tweaks I need to make,” he said. “I feel like I’m pretty close, and I hope it clicks.”