MINNEAPOLIS -- Just when you think Justin Verlander can’t get any more dominant, he does something to remind us why he’s one of the best pitchers of his generation.
Verlander continued his incredible start to the season in the Astros' 5-0 win over the Twins on Tuesday night at Target Field by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning before Gio Urshela broke it up with a single to right field with one out. Verlander finished with eight scoreless innings, walking two while facing the minimum 24 batters.
Falling five outs shy of throwing his fourth career no-hitter didn’t do much to dampen Verlander’s enthusiasm about the way he’s pitching in his return from Tommy John surgery.
“I really felt fortunate to even be in the situation,” Verlander said. “Urshela broke it up with a nice, clean hit. Unfortunately, I’ve been [in this situation] many times before and had it happen. I’ve had a few heartbreaking ones in the ninth inning. This one, I think, is one of those you appreciate the fact [that] it’s a good outing and gave us a chance to win.”
The Astros, winners of eight games in a row, have posted four shutouts during their eight-game winning streak, allowing eight runs total.
Verlander, who threw 89 pitches, is 4-1 with a 1.55 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and .150 opponents’ batting average in six starts. Those are phenomenal numbers for any pitcher, much less a 39-year-old who had thrown only one game in the previous two seasons.
“A guy that has three [no-hitters] under his belt, when you get to the eighth, he’s six outs away and I thought he was going to get it for sure,” catcher Martín Maldonado said.
Verlander was so efficient, he threw only 66 pitches through six innings and 76 pitches through seven. He struck out Jorge Polanco to start the eighth before Urshela lined a 95.1 mph fastball into right field to break up the no-hit bid.
“I have no regrets about throwing that pitch,” Verlander said. “If you're going to give it up, that’s kind of the way you want to do it. Opposite-field single, nice hitting by him, good pitch by me. Tip your cap and move on.”
Urshela, who had grounded out in his previous two at-bats to fall to 0-for-5 lifetime against Verlander, said he wasn’t trying to pull the ball.
“That was a good fastball up and away, so I just tried to stay short to the ball,” Urshela said.
Verlander had plenty of help from his defense, too. Michael Brantley made a nice diving catch in left field to rob Gary Sánchez of a hit to end the first. Third baseman Alex Bregman made a charging barehanded grab on an Urshela roller in the second and threw him out.
“[Brantley] hates to dive, so I appreciate him laying out for me early,” Verlander said. “Bregman on the left side of the infield -- a sharp ground ball, and he’s the only one over there and he’s [playing] in. He was able to pick it.”
Perhaps the best defensive play, though, came in the sixth. Gilberto Celestino walked with two outs and tried to advance to second base on a ball that popped out of the glove of Maldonado, who threw a dart to Jeremy Peña covering second for the out. The throw was clocked at 85 mph.
“Really, his job behind the plate in general was fantastic,” Verlander said.
After throwing 101 pitches Wednesday against the Mariners for the first time since surgery, Verlander wasn’t going to go past 90, unless he had a no-hitter into the ninth. He said his next start will come on four days of rest, so it appears the Astros are going back to a five-man rotation.
“I think we’re trying to be really smart with my workload,” he said. “Coming up on this next rotation, it will be the first time this year that we’ve tried to go on a regular five-day rotation with no [extra] rest days. It was kind of a pre-planned, little bit of a de-load. Got to 100 pitches my last outing, bounced back really well for that and to kind of prepare for the regular rest and get my body used to that is the next and, for me, the final step. Not just to do it once, but to be able to kind of repeat five days [of rest] for multiple starts in a row is where I ultimately want to get to.”