HOUSTON -- Even at 40 years old, Justin Verlander is always looking for an edge. It could come in the form of information he gleans from TrackMan technology. It could come from something he discovered while throwing in the bullpen. And it could come from watching Instagram videos of pitching.
“I’m a little neurotic at times,” Verlander said.
Verlander, having found something mechanically he corrected since his last start, delivered his best outing Tuesday night since getting traded back to the Astros earlier this month. Working in a good rhythm and with his confidence brimming, Verlander struck out a season-high nine batters over six scoreless innings in the Astros’ 7-3 win over the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park.
“I think I found something early in my mechanics with my load that answered a lot of questions and lined up down the mechanics path of what I was looking for,” Verlander said. “I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but I think the results were really good. The velo jumped up a little bit, I was behind the ball better, timing was better. All very positive things.”
Verlander (9-6) threw 96 pitches while giving up five hits, one walk and hitting one batter. He got 16 swings-and-misses (his second-most this season), including 13 on his fastball, which averaged 95.1 mph (94.3 mph season average). He’s 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA in his last 11 starts.
“I think the shape of my fastball was back to what it used to be,” Verlander said. “Earlier this season, I was kind of cutting across the four-seam a little bit, just wasn’t a very efficient spin. For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out how to get that back. It’s been slowly getting there, but I feel like [it’s] the last piece of the puzzle, I hope. You can only go start by start but the results today were really what I was looking for.”
And just in time for the Astros, who are locked in a three-way battle in the American League West. Houston’s win kept them one-half game ahead of the red-hot Mariners, and also on the heels of the first-place Rangers.
“We need to answer the bell and play better baseball,” Verlander said. “We know the talent is here and it’s time and you’ve gotta go. You can’t just wait around. We got beat by Seattle [swept at home last weekend], who’s an extremely hot team, playing really good baseball, pitching really well, obviously, and their offense is hot and those things happen. You can’t get down about it, though. It’s like ‘All right, turn the page. Let’s go. Wake up.’ It’s nice to see us do just that.”
Kyle Tucker’s two-run homer off Red Sox starter Tanner Houck, his 25th of the season, put the Astros ahead, 2-0. Catcher Martín Maldonado drove in a run in the fourth with a sacrifice bunt, scoring a hustling Mauricio Dubón from second when the Red Sox failed to initially cover home plate, and Houston poured it on with four runs in the seventh.
Verlander and Red Sox manager Alex Cora exchanged words prior to the start of the second inning, when Verlander motioned that his PitchCom earpiece wasn’t working. Cora came from the dugout, arguing that the veteran right-hander was using the loss of a communication as a ploy because the pitch timer was winding down.
“Alex comes out there and starts arguing. I had been shaking [off Maldonado] and [Cora] starts to argue my PitchCom was clearly working,” Verlander said. “I’m assuming he thought I was using it as a tactic. I wasn’t using it as a tactic. He gestured to me and said something like, ‘You go pitch,’ along those lines.”
A hot mic on the field caught a heated exchange from Verlander to Cora, which Verlander confirmed postgame.
“In part, that was me being like, ‘I’m done with this. You do what you want, talk to the umpire, I’m going to go worry about pitching,’’ Verlander said.
Both Verlander and Cora said the exchange was in the heat of the battle and there were no hard feelings.
"He's one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game,” said Cora, who was ejected in the seventh for arguing balls and strikes. “He did a good job today."