HOUSTON -- As baseball awaits direction on the time and method about which it will begin the 2020 regular season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Astros pitcher Justin Verlander said Thursday he has made significant progress in the last week following March 17 surgery on his right groin and is feeling optimistic about his health.
Verlander, in a conference call with Houston-area reporters, said he recently began throwing long toss with good effort, though he’s still not 100 percent. The lat injury that sidelined him early in spring camp is just about healed, and the groin injury that led to surgery is coming along nicely, as well. The surgery was performed in Philadelphia by Dr. William Meyers, who did Verlander’s muscle core surgery in January 2014.
“In general, everything’s been moving in the right direction and it’s started, these last couple of weeks, to feel very strong, particularly in throwing,” Verlander said. “That was probably the toughest thing on the groin, which I think points to why I needed this surgery in the first place, because throwing was putting a big strain on it. But I would say particularly this week, I’ve made a big stride forward and am very optimistic about how it’s feeling and looking.”
The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner said he began noticing discomfort in his groin while he was working out in the offseason, but it never stopped him from doing what he needed to do. When he got to camp in February and started throwing off the mound with high effort, it started bothering him more. Surgery was discussed at the time, but Verlander tried to work through it as Grapefruit League games started.
As a result, Verlander said he ended up straining his lat muscle because he was changing his mechanics to compensate for the groin injury. While rehabbing his groin, he felt it pop, which concerned him enough to talk to the training staff again and seek a second opinion, which meant a visit to Dr. Meyers.
“Sure enough, when he looked at it, both with his physical exam and the MRI, it looked [like] my attachment of that groin had gotten worse, and it started to pull it off the bone even more,” he said. “That moment was the first time I realized that I probably wouldn’t be able to make it through a season without it completely tearing. And that I should just go ahead and get it done at that point in time, which is what I did.”
The original diagnosis was a six-week recovery, a mark Verlander passed earlier this week. Of course, with no set date on the resumption of the baseball season, Verlander, 37, can take his time during his rehab to make sure he’s ready to start his 15th full season in the big leagues. He says he’s using the extra time to make his delivery as efficient as possible, in addition to health.
“I think having this surgery is going to allow me to do that, where maybe if I hadn’t done it I would have continued to manipulate my body to be able to pitch,” he said.
Verlander has seen the possible scenarios in which baseball might start the regular season.
“I was probably in the pessimistic camp about playing just looking at the facts of the virus, but I would say recently I’ve become more optimistic we’re going to get games in in some form or fashion,” he said. “It sounds like those in charge are honing in on what that would look like. Look, I’m a proponent of playing baseball, whatever that takes. I want to play games.”
Verlander had one of the best seasons of his career last season, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and an 0.803 WHIP. He reached 300 strikeouts in a season for the first time and surpassed 3,000 strikeouts for his career. He’s sitting on 225 career wins and is eyeing 300 later in his career, though every day lost in the calendar makes achieving career milestones more difficult.
“I’ve never been somebody that sticks a number and a goal out there, for many reasons,” he said. “You just never want to give up that passion, no matter what. I have that passion every time I take the mound, whether it’s for win No. 300 or win No. 226 or win No. 1. I never wanted to put this theoretical goal in my head, so I don’t let up.”