Verlander takes home AL Comeback Player of Year honors

November 22nd, 2022

HOUSTON -- A remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery at 39 years old by Astros right-hander Justin Verlander was punctuated when he won his third career Cy Young Award this year, becoming the first pitcher to win the award after not throwing a pitch in the previous season.

That made Verlander the runaway choice to win the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, which is determined following a vote by the 30 club beat reporters from The Comeback Player of the Year is officially sanctioned by Major League Baseball and has been presented annually since 2005 to one player in each league who has re-emerged on the field during the season.

Verlander, after pitching in one game from 2020-21, went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA in the regular season and led the AL in wins, ERA, WHIP (0.83), opponents’ OPS (.497), opponents’ batting average (.186) and hits per nine innings (5.97). His ERA was the lowest by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez's 1.74 mark in 2000. He was the unanimous winner of the AL Cy Young Award, making him the 11th pitcher to win it at least three times (2011, ’19, ’22).

After winning the Cy Young with the Astros in 2019, Verlander made one start in the pandemic-shorted 2020 season and injured his right elbow. He tried to rehab to return to the mound late that season, but he suffered a setback and ultimately had surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament. That meant he would miss the entire ’21 season.

Verlander entered the 2022 season hopeful he could return to his previous form. Entering the spring, he was nearly a year and a half post-surgery and had gone through a grueling rehab to get back on the mound. Verlander said he left no stone unturned to make sure he could compete again at a high level.

Still, it wasn’t until about five starts into the 2022 regular season that Verlander started to really believe he was completely back. The soreness he had felt in his elbow throughout the rehab process was still present after his first three starts, but after his fourth start, everything felt normal. His elbow had adapted to the stress of pitching again.

“I felt like myself,” he said. “The moment that I felt normal and like myself and was pain-free and was able to recover like I always have, my mindset completely shifted to, ‘OK, I am the pitcher I've always been,’” he said. “That level of pitching, when I’m healthy, has always been quite high. I didn’t anticipate it ending in a Cy Young. I don’t try to put expectations on myself.

“I knew I had the opportunity to go out and have a wonderful season. That was really the turning point. I was like, ‘OK, just go out and worry about what you can worry about. Worry about your mechanics, worry about your opponents, and go out there and compete and see what happens.’”

Verlander earned his first career World Series win in Game 5 of the Fall Classic, helping the Astros win their second World Series title in six seasons. He’s the first Astros player to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award.