Verlander's 'first pitch'; James has setback

March 17th, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros pitcher posted a video on his Twitter account Wednesday showing him throwing his "ceremonial first pitch after surgery." Verlander underwent Tommy John surgery Sept. 30, 2020, after he injured his arm on Opening Day and had a comeback bid halted with another injury in the final week of the regular season.

Astros manager Dusty Baker talked to Verlander in recent days and said Wednesday he was working out at Cressey Sports Performance, a high-performance sports training facility in Palm Beach Gardens -- only a few miles from the club's Spring Training complex. Baker said he asked Verlander to speak with No. 3 prospect Hunter Brown, who grew up in suburban Detroit with posters of Verlander on his wall.

"We had a nice conversation three or four days ago," Baker said. "I asked him how he was feeling, and he told me he was going to start throwing, which he has. It's good news to know. He has a long ways to go, but at least he's on the way."

Verlander, who won the 2019 American League Cy Young Award, isn't expected to pitch this season.

Verlander will attempt to become the 10th known pitcher to come back from Tommy John surgery after undergoing the procedure at 37 years of age or older. But there's a chance he's thrown his final pitch for the Astros, considering he will be a free agent heading into 2022. Verlander signed a two-year, $66 million contract extension with Houston prior to the '19 season that was set to keep him with the organization through '21.

Verlander enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2019 on the way to his second career AL Cy Young Award, making 34 starts and going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a 0.803 WHIP in 223 innings. He threw his third career no-hitter and reached 3,000 career strikeouts, while whiffing 300 in a season for the first time.

James has setback
Astros right-hander , who was slated to miss the start of the 2021 season after undergoing surgery to repair a labral tear in his left hip in October, had a "physical setback," Baker said Wednesday. The manager didn't divulge details but said James would be "fine in a few days."

James, who lives in south Florida, has yet to report to camp but is in town, Baker said. He'll have to go through the coronavirus intake protocols before he's able to work out with the team.

The recovery time for James' procedure is approximately six to eight months, the team said previously. A sixth-month recovery would take James into late April, while an eight-month recovery would stretch into late June.

James originally sustained the injury on Aug. 20 at Colorado and was placed on the injured list until Sept. 9. When he returned, he enjoyed his best stretch of 2020, allowing one earned run and striking out eight across six relief appearances through the end of the regular season.

The first half of the abbreviated 2020 season had been a struggle for James. He walked 11 and allowed seven runs across a pair of three-inning starts after beginning in the rotation. The Astros then sent him to the bullpen.

Overall, James posted a 7.27 ERA over 17 1/3 innings in 2020, the 28-year-old's third season with Houston. He also appeared in relief in three postseason games, allowing four runs across four innings and getting tagged with two blown saves.

More roster cuts
The Astros made a flurry of roster cuts in the past couple of days, reassigning pitchers Ronel Blanco and Austin Henson, outfielder Pedro Leon and catcher Scott Manea to the Minors on Wednesday. Leon was signed out of Cuba for $4 million in January, but wasn’t in the club’s plans to start the year.

On Tuesday, the Astros reassigned pitchers Hunter Brown and Brett Conine to the Minors and optioned pitchers Peter Solomon, Jairo Solis and Tyler Ivey and infielder Freudis Nova to the Minors. Players optioned to the Minors are on the 40-man roster.

Worth noting
Baker said right-hander Pedro Báez is in camp and working out with the Astros following a COVID-19 diagnosis that has kept him in quarantine for more than a week. Báez has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game this year.