HOUSTON -- Saying things have gone as smoothly as he could have hoped for at this point in his recovery, Astros ace Justin Verlander threw off the front of the mound prior to Wednesday’s game at Minute Maid Park as he continues his rehab from a right calf injury suffered Aug. 28.
Verlander has been playing catch for several days but on Wednesday threw from the slope of the mound, without stepping on the pitcher’s rubber. The veteran right-hander suffered a fascial disruption but no muscle fiber disruption in his right calf while darting to cover first base during a start against the Orioles.
“Just very optimistic but also being cautious, particularly given the time of the year,” Verlander said. “Not trying to overly push things. I think things have gone about as good as anybody could have hoped for to this point. It feels good to be able to get off the slope a little bit and to test that. It felt good.”
Verlander is eligible to come off the 15-day injured list Sept. 14 when the team is in Detroit, but he’ll probably need a few more days before he can be activated. He said the next step will be throwing a light bullpen session off the mound and then a more intense bullpen. Verlander doesn’t expect to need a Minor League rehab outing because he’s been able to keep throwing during his time on the IL.
His last hurdle before returning would be doing some agility work and sprinting on the field, which is how he suffered the injury last month.
“Given the point in the season and given how well our starters are doing and how we’ve positioned ourselves also, I think 'caution' is the word to use,” Verlander said. “I think even if I rush back to come back right when the 15 days is up, I don’t know if that would even allot an extra start throughout the rest of the regular season or not, as opposed to giving it another four days or so.
“It’s a lot of constant conversation, and a lot of ebb and flow between me and the staff and how you feel, and we haven’t really circled a date yet. It’s really just kind of like see how things go as you’re progressing, and I’m progressing very quickly. I do think discretion is the better part of valor. I think that could apply here. Just try not to get too far ahead of myself and don’t do anything stupid, you know?”
Verlander remains among the front-runners for the AL Cy Young Award. He was 16-3 with an MLB-best 1.84 ERA in 24 starts this season before getting injured. It appears he’s aiming to make few more regular-season starts before the postseason begins in mid-October.
“I think, as with most of these types of injuries, whether it’s fascial like mine or muscle, one of the big keys when you’re coming back is kind of getting through that mental barrier, which is why I wanted to throw off the slope [Wednesday],” he said. “I know I can play my normal game of catch on flat ground. How does this feel off the slope? There’s always a little bit of hesitation. It’s in a very controlled environment to slowly work through that hesitation. In my experience, anyway, I’ll be much more confident, mentally, throwing off the mound [next time].”