WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – While several Astros pitchers, including Forrest Whitley and José Urquidy, faced hitters for the first time this spring, ace pitcher Justin Verlander threw his first official bullpen session of camp. Verlander threw one last week before camp opened and took a few extra days before getting back on the mound Tuesday.
Verlander said he works on specific things at this time of year. On Tuesday, it was fastball location and being able to replicate his mechanics.
“I felt good,” Verlander said. “I threw everything. I definitely wouldn’t say everything was working, but I would say it’s where it needs to be now.”
Verlander began throwing in January after a historic season in which he won his second American League Cy Young Award. Verlander went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 34 starts, reaching 300 strikeouts in a season for the first time while leading the Majors in opponents’ batting average (.172), WHIP (0.80) and innings pitched (223). He also threw his third no-hitter.
Greinke set to arrive Saturday
Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said starting pitcher Zack Greinke is still set to report to camp Saturday, more than a week after other pitchers and catchers reported. Strom said he talks daily to Greinke, who’s working out at Rollins College near his home in the Orlando area.
“He’ll take his physical and he’ll be throwing live batting practice on [Sunday] and he’ll slip right in,” Strom said. “I’ll get Verlander, José Urquidy and Josh James’ schedule and [Framber] Valdez kind of going as we move forward and then mix and match the other guys.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters last week Greinke was being allowed to show up late because “he’s Zack Greinke.” This will be Greinke’s first spring camp with Houston after being traded from the D-backs last July.
“As we all know, and Dusty hit it on the head, Greinke is just different,” Strom said. “He’s just a different cat. He competes like nobody’s business.”
Baker weighs in on new rule
Baker said baseball’s new three-batter minimum rule that will be installed this year will be a challenge in a lot of different ways for a manager. The rule states any relief pitcher must face a minimum of three batters until they are put out or reach base, or until the half-inning is over or there’s an injury.
“It’s a challenge for how you set your lineup, a challenge for how you bring in certain guys at certain times,” Baker said. “I think the challenge is, especially the lefty. He might go to the wayside. That was a big job for some of these guys. We’ll see how it goes.”
Indeed. The lefty specialist roles could be changed forever considering the days of bringing in a southpaw to face one hitter are over, though it could be done with two outs at the end of an inning if the pitcher gets the final out. The Astros haven’t had a lefty specialist since Tony Sipp left following the 2017 season.
The rule will become effective in Grapefruit League games on March 12.