Verlander shut down: 'A shock to all of us'

July 27th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Astros ace , the 2019 American League Cy Young Award winner, will be shut down for two weeks after an MRI performed Saturday showed a right forearm strain, manager Dusty Baker said after Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the Mariners at Minute Maid Park.

“He’s shut down for a couple of weeks, and we’ll re-evaluate at that time,” Baker said. “That’s all I can tell you.”

Baker stopped short of saying Verlander wouldn’t return this season, which the Houston Chronicle reported Sunday. Verlander clarified in a tweet that, "The report that I'm currently missing the rest of the season is not accurate."

The club officially placed the right-hander on the 10-day injured list on Monday, recalled right-handers Nivaldo Rodriguez and Brandon Bielak and optioned infielder Taylor Jones.

Still, with a 60-game season, a two-week shutdown would mean Verlander would need to make a quick recovery to come back within the next eight weeks.

Baker said the injury occurred early in Verlander’s Opening Day start Friday against the Mariners, in which he gave up two runs in six innings to pick up career win No. 226. Verlander was scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Dodgers.

“He said he felt fine, and you see he was throwing the ball great,” Baker said. “It was kind of a shock to all of us.”

After losing Gerrit Cole in free agency to the Yankees in the offseason, the Astros are suddenly faced with life without Verlander, who edged Cole in a tight Cy Young race last year. Zack Greinke, who was acquired in a trade a year ago, and Lance McCullers Jr., who missed all of last year following Tommy John surgery, are the top two starters remaining.

“It’s tough,” All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He’s a Cy Young winner, he’s a top-of-the-rotation guy, top-of-the-rotation teammate. Hard worker. We’re going to have to battle, and some guys are going to have to step up.”

Josh James, who appeared in 49 games in relief last year, will make his first start of the season on Monday. It’s believed lefty Framber Valdez would start Tuesday against the Dodgers, but it hasn’t been announced. Jose Urquidy, who was expected to be in the rotation to start the year, was placed on the injured list on July 12 for undisclosed reasons, and he just started doing baseball drills.

Verlander, the active leader in innings pitched for a career with 2,988 -- not including Bartolo Colon, who has not officially retired -- has thrown at least 200 innings in 12 of the past 13 seasons.

“It’s not a pleasant situation to think about Verlander or thinking about how many young players we have in the bullpen and organization, but we’ll go back to the drawing board,” Baker said.

The Astros’ starting-pitching depth will now be tested. Rookie reliever Cristian Javier, who made his debut Saturday, is stretched out enough to start, but he is inexperienced. Reliever Cy Sneed appeared in eight games last year in his first big league season. Then there’s top prospect Forrest Whitley, who’s among the players working out at the alternate training site, though he struggled mightily at Triple-A Round Rock last year.

No matter who the Astros get to fill Verlander’s void, it will be a drop in production. At age 36 in 2019, Verlander had one of the best seasons of his career, perhaps trailing the '11 season in which he won his first AL Cy Young Award, as well as the AL Most Valuable Player Award. In 34 starts in 2019, he went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings. His WHIP was the second-lowest in the past 100 years.