With adjustments made, Verlander ready to open ALCS

October 19th, 2022

HOUSTON -- There’s no better elixir for a starting pitcher who’s had a subpar outing than to get back on the mound as soon as he can. Unfortunately for Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, he’s had seven days to dwell on his Game 1 outing in the American League Division Series against the Mariners when he gave up six runs on 10 hits while he battled his mechanics.

Verlander said following the Astros’ win over the Mariners on Oct. 11 at Minute Maid Park that he identified some adjustments that needed to be made. Since a brief stint on the injured list in late August/early September with a calf injury, he’s fought his mechanics, but had still pitched well. Verlander knows his body so well that small tweaks on the lower half of his body can lead to a big change in results.

“I'm very thankful that it wasn't a major injury and I don't think it was a big issue, but it did probably create a little bit of mechanical issues,” Verlander said. “I've been working on that ever since I came back. I've been working really hard. I think hopefully after the last one, I really think I identified some stuff that was kind of the key component. It's just kind of deep mechanical stuff that I really probably shouldn't really go too far into. It's just we don't need to go that deep into the woods.”

Still, Verlander knows he must pitch better, too, but it’s an opportunity he relishes. He’ll make his 33rd career postseason start Wednesday when he takes the ball in Game 1 of the ALCS for the Astros.

“We're not worried about Justin,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I mean, it can happen to anybody. I don't care how great you are, or what your track record says, that's why you play the game. So we anticipate Justin to come out and throw a great game.”

Verlander, who was the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, is 0-3 with a 5.97 ERA in his last five postseason starts. His last playoff win came in Game 1 of the 2019 ALDS when he threw seven scoreless innings against the Rays. There’s nobody else the Astros would rather have on the mound.

“I expect great things from J.V.,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “J.V. is never satisfied and he’s always working to try to get the edge and try to get better and better. I expect an unbelievable game from him, especially the way he’s done it in the past. We’ll be prepared.”

Verlander, who missed the 2021 season following Tommy John surgery, made 28 starts this year and went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA -- the lowest for a qualified AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez, who had a 1.74 ERA in 2000. Verlander is likely going to win his third AL Cy Young Award, which would only further cement his Hall of Fame case. His playoff resume is pretty good, too.

He needs one win to tie Hall of Famer John Smoltz for second place on the all-time postseason wins list with 15, putting him within striking distance of Andy Pettitte’s record of 19 before his career is over. Among active players, he ranks first in playoff wins, second in strikeouts (five behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw) and second in innings pitched (2 1/3 behind Kershaw).

Verlander, 39, has said he’d like to pitch until he’s 45, which will give him a shot to reach 300 career wins if he stays healthy. It would be wise not to doubt him, considering the brilliant season he had in 2022 coming back from Tommy John surgery.

The past few years have changed Verlander’s perspective on his life and career. The birth of his daughter and his time away from the game while recovering from Tommy John surgery made him relish his life at home more than he did before. The time off the mound also reminded him how much he loves competing, even as he pushes 40 years old.

“I love being around my teammates,” Verlander said. “We have such a short window as athletes to play the game that really has defined my life up to this point, up until I got married and had my daughter. … I would never want to look back with regret that I didn't find out how far I could take this. I obviously was gifted to throw a baseball, you know, so why would I stop that short?”