'Older and wiser' Verlander eyes big picture, exits despite no-no bid

Cy Young favorite fans 10, spins 6 hitless IP before turning to the ‘pen

August 24th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Maybe 10 years ago, Astros pitcher Justin Verlander wouldn’t have been so willing to pump the brakes. But age and experience can change your perspective, especially when you’re coming off Tommy John surgery, are the front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award and have your team atop the AL standings.

Suddenly, you start to see the bigger picture a little bit more instead of living in the moment. That explains why Verlander -- a man who always wants the baseball and is an ultimate competitor -- was totally fine with coming out of Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Twins after throwing six hitless innings, putting him just nine outs away from the fourth no-hitter of his career.

“He’s older and wiser and realizes what’s at stake, and he realizes that we’ve still got 38 [regular-season] games to go and hopefully, a whole lot more,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s looking at the big picture versus just today or being selfish-minded, which he’s not. He’s thinking about the team and himself.”

Verlander, after missing all of last season following his elbow surgery, understands he’ll be a big reason why the Astros can return to the World Series. He leads the Major Leagues in wins (16-3) and ERA (1.87) and continues to defy logic and science in his comeback season.

“I’m kind of in uncharted territories here a little bit,” Verlander said. “I keep going back to the beginning of the season and talking to all the doctors and our team and trainers and saying if I feel good, there’s no reason why there should be an innings limit.

“I think we’ve done an incredible job of giving me time here and there. We’ve been running a six-man [rotation] for quite a while and allowing me to recover at the beginning of the season was honestly the toughest part. Since then, I feel like I've been feeling better and better most of the time I go out here.”

Baker said the Astros will return to a five-man rotation the next time through, so they didn’t want to push Verlander much past 90 pitches on Tuesday. Still, he was so dominant and strong, he could have gone back out for the seventh and maybe more. He retired 18 of the 19 batters he faced, with Nick Gordon reaching on a strikeout-wild pitch in the second. He struck out 10 batters with no walks.

And at 91 pitches through six innings, Verlander wasn’t going to be in position to complete nine innings with a reasonable pitch count, anyway. In other words, he wasn’t going to throw a no-hitter.

“It was a pretty easy conversation,” said Verlander of his consultations with catcher Martín Maldonado and pitching coach Josh Miller. “I think we all agreed that was the right decision.”

Verlander was replaced in the seventh by Ryne Stanek, who gave up a leadoff single to Carlos Correa -- making his return to Minute Maid Park -- to break up Houston’s no-hit bid.

“It’s tough to take a guy out with a no-hitter, but he would have had to go 130 pitches to get that,” Baker said. “You’ve got to weigh between a no-hitter and having him for the rest of the year. He felt it was more important than the game that we have a healthy Verlander the rest of the year.”

Correa, who went 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Verlander, tipped his cap for his former teammate.

“J.V., he's the Cy Young favorite for a reason, and he executed very well,” Correa said. “He was mixing and matching. We had a plan, and it's like he knew what our plan was. He was not throwing as many fastballs. He just did what he does best.”

Verlander said he threw some of his best stuff of the season en route to picking up his 242nd career win. He also passed Pedro Martinez and Max Scherzer to claim sole possession of 13th on the all-time strikeout list with 3,161.

“I came into this season with an understanding that I was going to have to pull the reins a bit,” he said. “Look, we’re all adapting here. I’m not saying that moving forward, I’m not going to want to be somebody that can throw 110, 115 [pitches] a game. ... I think I've trained myself over a long career to be able to do that. I’d like to be able to do that again.”