Verlander slowed by shoulder issue; timetable unclear

February 14th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It didn’t take long for the Astros to suffer their first bit of bad news at the start of Spring Training on Wednesday, when veteran right-hander said a shoulder issue has put him behind his throwing schedule by a couple of weeks.

Verlander provided the update to reporters inside the Astros’ clubhouse prior to pitchers and catchers hitting the field for the first time at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. Verlander, who turns 41 on Tuesday, said he had a “hiccup,” but it was too early to tell if it would impact his availability for Opening Day. He said he’s thrown off the mound three times so far this offseason.

“I’m a little bit behind schedule now,” he said. “I had a little hiccup early on that’s resolved itself, but I have to be really cautious at how I’m building up. I guess my body doesn’t respond the same at 40 as it did at 25. I’m a couple of weeks behind.”

Meanwhile, starting pitcher J.P. France is also dealing with right shoulder inflammation and is limited to throwing off flat ground as camp starts. France felt something in his shoulder in his final bullpen session before camp about two weeks ago, and an MRI revealed inflammation.

“We’re taking it day by day,” France said. “I’m not trying to push it too much, not trying to make a week’s worth injury into months. We’re just trying to take it slow.”

Verlander said he felt some discomfort in his shoulder when he started playing catch and had to shut down his throwing program for a while.

“So I kind of had to take a step back and really be diligent about my build-up,” he said. “I’ve always been somebody who luckily can pick up a ball and start throwing it. This time, it wasn’t quite as easy, so I had to slow down a little bit. I always like to give myself as much rest as possible, but my timeline is always tight. With a tight timeline, having to slow things down a little bit put me a little bit behind.”

Verlander, who was traded back to the Astros from the Mets last July, also experienced a delayed start last year with the Mets as he was placed on the injured list with a right arm injury hours before Opening Day. He debuted on May 4 and made 16 starts for New York before the Astros acquired him prior to the Trade Deadline.

“To go through all the stuff last year with a new team and in a blink of an eye be back with the Astros was a whirlwind for sure,” he said. “I definitely had some time to sit down and decompress. I think it was a bookmark of a year for me. It was one of those years I look back on my career and go, ‘Man, that was a crazy one.’”

The Astros already have two key starting pitchers on the injured list to start the season. Luis Garcia underwent Tommy John surgery in May, and Lance McCullers Jr. had surgery to repair his flexor tendon and remove a bone spur last June.

Both are expected to return midseason, and manager Joe Espada said he’s not concerned about Verlander.

“I’m not [concerned] just because of the way he’s been in our conversations,” Espada said. “He’s not giving me a reason to be concerned. But he’s behind, and I trust JV’s judgment, and our job is just to make sure that he’s ready to help us throughout the season.”

Houston is expected to begin the season with Verlander atop a rotation that includes Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, Hunter Brown and France.

Verlander went 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 11 regular-season starts (68 innings) in his return to Houston and also made three postseason starts before the club was eliminated by the Rangers in the ALCS.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner is entering the second season of a two-year deal he signed with the Mets last winter. The contract contains a $35 million vesting option for 2025 that is triggered if Verlander throws 140 innings this season. The Mets will pay half of the option if it vests.