ARLINGTON -- Considering the news could have been much worse, Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander felt a sense of relief by being placed on the 15-day injured list Tuesday with a right calf injury that general manager James Click said would require a “relatively short term” recovery.
Verlander, considered by many the frontrunner to win the AL Cy Young Award, underwent an MRI on Monday that revealed fascial disruption, but no muscle fiber disruption. This distinction provided Verlander with a measure of relief, as well as optimism that he won’t miss too much time beyond what the IL stint requires.
“I didn’t realize how serious even a very minor muscle calf injury can be,” Verlander said. “If that were to happen, we’d be having a much different conversation. But apparently fascia heals much faster. … As far as the spectrum of calf injuries go, I feel like this was about as good of news as I could have gotten.
"After the diagnosis was given to me, when I was talking to the doctors about it is when I realized how close it came to being potentially season-ending. If the muscle fibers had been involved, I think we’re looking at a matter of weeks without even picking up a ball."
Verlander, who has gone 16-3 with an MLB-best 1.84 ERA in 24 starts this season, admitted that he is still feeling some soreness in the calf. There is no timetable for his next baseball activity, but he added that “each day when I wake up and get out of bed, it’s like, ‘OK, I feel like I can walk a little more normal today without any pain.’ And that’s happening very quickly.
"The timeframe is based on how I heal, but I’m optimistic that that could be quick," Verlander said.
Click echoed Verlander’s thoughts, terming the diagnosis as "relatively good news."
"Our hope and our expectation is that this should be relatively short-term," he said.
Verlander said he knew almost immediately at the end of that third-inning rundown in the Astros’ 3-1 victory over the Orioles that he probably shouldn’t stay in the game. He felt a pop in his calf as soon as he began sprinting to cover first base, and then felt the muscle tighten up on him as he walked toward the dugout, where he told Astros head trainer Jeremiah Randall what was going on. They agreed not to push the issue further.
“There’s always a little part of you that thinks, ‘I want to try to pitch through this.’ But I don’t think that’s ever a smart thing to listen to. It’s only gotten me in trouble in the past,” Verlander said with a laugh. “I’ve learned from those mistakes.”
Even without Verlander, the Astros still have five quality big league starters in Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., José Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier, who was moved to the bullpen temporarily last week to pitch behind McCullers. Javier will start Wednesday’s series finale against the Rangers in Arlington.
“We thought to get him to the team today to get around the guys, to get to know the staff and the catchers while he gets himself ready,” Click said. “But the purpose of the taxi squad is to acclimate him to the Major League environment in anticipation of activation.”
Houston also recalled righty Brandon Bielak from Triple-A Sugar Land, optioned outfielder Jake Meyers to Triple-A and recalled outfielder/first baseman J.J. Matijevic from Triple-A in corresponding moves. Click said Meyers’ demotion “was a very difficult decision,” but the hope is it provides the 26-year-old with a “mental and physical reset” as he has slashed .209/.255/.302 in 139 at-bats this season.
“We have seen how good he can be at the Major League level, particularly on the defensive end. I think he is, if not the best, one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball,” Click said.
Sources told MLB.com that the Astros planned to purchase the contract of No. 3 prospect Yainer Díaz, a catcher/first baseman who played in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, when rosters expand on Thursday, but he was not part of Tuesday's roster moves.