Healthy, bringing heat … still the JV we know

March 3rd, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- The biggest thing veteran pitcher took away from his first start of the spring is that he can put his groin injury behind him. The impressive velocity on the scoreboard was pretty important as well.

Verlander, who dealt with groin discomfort early in camp that delayed his Grapefruit League debut, reported no issues after throwing 53 pitches in 2 2/3 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium. He hit 97 mph on the radar gun, which was another positive development for Verlander.

“Today, first and foremost, was to come out of it feeling good,” said Verlander, who gave up three runs (two earned), one walk and struck out three. “Having no issues with the groin. Check. Hoping that the velo’s decent, which I think it was for this time of year. Better than normal. I’d have to reference years. I was pretty surprised seeing some of the numbers I saw.”

Verlander said his location and pitch quality are probably a bit behind where he would like to be at this point in the spring, but he’s been focusing so much on getting healthy, he’s not worried about it. That will be a point of emphasis moving forward.

“After today, I can start to forget about worrying about my groin and just go about my routine and worry about getting my pitch shape and deception where I want it,” Verlander said.

With the Yankees having lost a pair of starting pitchers to injuries and Boston’s Chris Sale set to have his left elbow examined, the top of the Astros’ rotation remains elite, even after losing Gerrit Cole to the Bronx. Verlander, Zack Greinke and the return of Lance McCullers Jr. give Houston a formidable 1-2-3 punch. Even José Urquidy, Houston’s supposed No. 4 starter, impressed by pounding the strike zone Tuesday with three scoreless innings.

The success of the Astros’ rotation starts with a healthy Verlander, which is why Tuesday was so key.

“He was very satisfied,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s a positive, positive sign for us.”

Verlander, 37, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and reached 300 strikeouts for the first time, in 223 innings. That was enough to edge Cole for his second Cy Young Award.

Verlander is expected to make his 12th Opening Day start for the Astros later this month, though there’s work to do between now and then. His goal on Tuesday was to throw about 50 pitches on a hot day in south Florida, and he was pulled after giving up a solo homer to Paul Goldschmidt.

“It was a decent location, kind of up and away,” Verlander said of the fastball to Goldschmidt. “He was able to barrel wrap. I had thrown seven in a row or something like that. To a hitter of his caliber, you can’t really do that. But it’s Spring Training, so that’s what we’re working on.”

Verlander, who was caught by Robinson Chirinos (now with the Rangers) in each of his starts last year, worked with catcher Dustin Garneau for the first time on Tuesday. Garneau was a late addition to the lineup after Martín Maldonado was scratched with a sore thumb. Garneau was impressed before Verlander even threw a pitch.

“He first came up to me and he had our scouting report already for their guys and to me that’s pretty impressive that a guy like he is, as established as he is, has already got scouting reports going on his first Spring Training game,” Garneau said. “That was pretty cool seeing that. Watching his routine and watching how he goes about attacking hitters and how he goes about each situation and what he’s taken to and stuff, for me it was huge. The guys got an idea of just about everything, so it’s pretty cool.”