Astros ace and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander has been diagnosed with a forearm strain and has been shut down, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. An MRI yesterday revealed the strain. Manager Dusty Baker told reporters that Verlander will be shut down “for a couple of weeks” before he is re-evaluated.
Verlander started the Astros’ season opener on Friday and notched his first win of 2020, throwing six innings of two-run baseball, allowing just three hits and striking out seven. In that start against the Mariners, Verlander’s fastball averaged 94.9 mph and reached as high as 96.7, according to Statcast. Last year, his average fastball velocity was 94.6 mph. He threw 73 pitches, but there weren’t any outward signs that the 37-year-old suffered an injury. Per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Verlander later told the Astros that his right arm was “tender” during Friday’s game.
He was scheduled to make his next start on Wednesday against the Dodgers. As of now, Baker and the Astros haven’t decided who will replace Verlander on the bump.
Verlander had already encountered his fair share of health troubles during the spring, with a lat strain and right groin surgery forcing him to rehab during the season’s coronavirus-necessitated delay, but he recovered well and was a full go in Spring Training 2.0.
Needless to say, any injury to the staff ace is a crippling blow to one of this year’s World Series favorites. Even with Verlander anchoring the staff, there were doubts about the Astros rotation after the departure of co-ace Gerrit Cole in the winter. With Lance McCullers Jr. coming off Tommy John surgery and Josh James and Jose Urquidy yet to prove themselves capable of shouldering a bigger workload, it was no secret that the Astros rotation would be unable to replicate last year’s historic success.
Of course, Baker’s phrasing means there’s hope that Verlander will be back on the field in a matter of weeks, and if that’s the case, the Astros’ depth would likely allow them to patch together a rotation in the meantime. But if the forearm strain necessitates a long-term IL stint, as we know any arm injury can, the Astros will face much greater problems.
In light of Verlander’s injury, the likes of Zack Greinke, McCullers, James, and Jose Urquidy will step into bigger roles in the Houston pitching staff. That’s not a bad unit, and Greinke has the track record of an ace, but Houston’s depth will undoubtedly be challenged by Verlander’s absence, however long it may be.
An earlier version of this story stated that Verlander would miss the remainder of the season, as per this report. As of now, that is not correct; the only timetable given by the Astros is that Verlander’s forearm strain will be re-evaluated in a couple of weeks.