- Astros’ closer Roberto Osuna has progressed to throwing, per GM James Click (via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). Osuna was seemingly ticketed for a Tommy John surgery after going down with an elbow injury earlier, although the reliever instead elected to rehab and attempt to return this season. The likelihood of that happening isn’t clear, but it’s generally encouraging to hear that he’s throwing again.
Justin Verlander announced (via his Instagram page) that he will undergo Tommy John surgery. As per the normal timeline for TJ recovery, Verlander will miss the entire 2021 season.
The right-hander’s full statement…
After consulting with several of the best doctors, it has become clear that I need Tommy John surgery. I was hopeful that I would be able to return to competition in 2020, however, during my simulated game unfortunately the injury worsened. Obviously I’m extremely disappointed, but I will not let this slow down my aspirations for my career. I will approach this rehab the only way I know, attack and don’t look back. I’m confident that with a proper rehabilitation program and my unwavering commitment that this surgery will ultimately lengthen my career as opposed to shorten it. I can’t thank my teammates, coaches, the front office and my fans enough for the support they have given me so far in this process. I’m eager to get through this recovery and back on the field to continue to do what I love.
Verlander started the Astros’ first game of the season and then was placed on the injured list due to a forearm strain. After some initial speculation that the injury would be season-ending, there was hope that Verlander was nearing a return to Houston’s rotation before the end of the schedule, and that he would be available for the team in the playoffs. Unfortunately, it now seems like we won’t see Verlander back on a mound until Opening Day 2022 at the earliest.
Given that Verlander will be 39 years old at that point, there is at least a chance that we have already seen the last pitch of his Hall Of Fame career. There isn’t a long track record of pitchers rebounding after such a notable surgery at that advanced age, though on the plus side for Verlander, he has been the picture of durability over his career. Apart from a triceps strain that cost him two months of the 2015 season, Verlander has been virtually free of any major injury, so he could theoretically have a better chance at a full recovery and a return to form than most pitchers in their late 30’s.
Verlander has already done better than most in holding off Father Time, as he is coming off two of his best seasons. At ages 35 and 36 during the 2018-19 seasons, Verlander posted a cumulative 2.55 ERA, 12.2 K/9, and 7.47 K/BB rate over 437 innings for Houston, leading the league in both K/BB and WHIP in both years. After finishing second in AL Cy Young voting in 2018, Verlander edged out then-teammate Gerrit Cole to win the award in 2019, eight seasons after Verlander’s initial Cy Young Award triumph (as well as an AL MVP Award) with the Tigers in 2011.
The Astros signed Verlander to a two-year, $66MM extension prior to the 2019 season, and that deal certainly looked all the world like a sound investment in the wake of Verlander’s Cy Young year. However, both years of that contract have now been wiped out thanks to his forearm problem, and it is possible Verlander’s time in Houston could now be up.
It’s a major blow to an Astros team that already has $115MM committed to the 2021 season in the form of only four players — Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman. With George Springer, Michael Brantley, and Yuli Gurriel all scheduled for free agency this winter, GM James Click faces some significant financial decisions, and the Astros’ overall direction is now severely complicated with the knowledge that Verlander won’t be a factor in 2021. While Houston has gotten some nice contributions from younger arms like Jose Urquidy, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez, obviously the pitching staff is much deeper and stronger with Verlander teaming with Greinke at the top of the rotation.
Justin Verlander has continued to progress in his late-season comeback effort, as Jake Kaplan of The Athletic writes. The veteran hurler isn’t yet ready to return to the Astros rotation, of course, but he has now faced live hitters in a two-inning sim game. It’s still unclear how things will progress from here. The club would surely like to get JV a regular-season appearance before the season concludes, but it’s also possible he’d make his first start in the postseason. Meanwhile, the ’Stros have now welcomed back fellow right-hander Lance McCullers from his own stay on the injured list, as Mark Berman of FOX 26 was among those to tweet. It turned out to be a brief stay for McCullers, who had a procedure to relieve neck nerve irritation. He’ll look to improve upon a 5.79 ERA through his first eight outings.
Here are some more injury notes from around the league …
- Phillies first bagger Rhys Hoskins is still in limbo as he deals with an elbow/foream issue. As Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports on Twitter, the burly slugger is holding out hope of a return even while the threat of a season-ending surgery hangs over his head. When and how this situation will be resolved isn’t yet clear. Losing Hoskins would represent a big dent to the Phils’ lineup. He has to this point of the season turned in a productive .245/.384/.503 slash line with ten long balls.
- It seems the Giants could yet get a bullpen boost from right-hander Reyes Moronta. He’s ready for competitive mound action at the team’s alternate training site, Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area notes on Twitter. Moronta has been building up after undergoing shoulder surgery, so the club won’t want to push him too hard. But it’s enticing to imagine adding another postseason weapon, particularly since Moronta is said to be showing typically strong velocity. Jeff Samardzija is also nearing readiness, with a five-inning set scheduled. It’s unclear what role may await for the veteran once he’s deemed a full go. He coughed up 15 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings over his first three starts on the year.
- The Cubs haven’t yet received a contribution from recently acquired southpaw Andrew Chafin, but that may soon change. The 30-year-old reliever, who was nursing a finger sprain when he was dealt at the trade deadline, is close enough that he could be activated over the next few days, skipper David Ross indicated to reporters including Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune (Twitter link). Chafin had struggled to open the year in Arizona, but he’d represent a notable addition to a bullpen that has had its share of issues, especially from the left side.
Astros right-hander Chris Devenski underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow yesterday, the team announced Wednesday. The recovery time on the procedure is expected to be about four months.
Devenski, 29, has struggled over the past few seasons, but from 2016-17, “The Dragon” was a major piece of Houston’s bullpen. In that time, he worked a combined 189 innings with a 2.38 ERA, 9.7 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.71 HR/9 and a 35.9 percent ground-ball rate. He posted a swinging-strike rate better than 15 percent over that two-year stretch, including a gaudy 16.9 percent in a 2017 campaign that saw him punch out 31.6 percent of the hitters he faced.
Since Opening Day 2018, however, Devenski has a 4.88 ERA in 120 frames. He’s still averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in that time, but his walk rate has ticked up slightly, his velocity has dipped, and he’s become vastly more prone to home runs (1.73 HR/9). Devenski managed just 3 2/3 innings in 2020 and was tagged for six runs on seven hits and three walks in that brief sample.
Heading into the offseason, Devenski will be at somewhat of a crossroads. His $2MM salary in 2020 was hardly outrageous, and his limited body of work this year means he’s unlikely to receive much of a raise — if any at all. Still, every club will be looking to trim some payroll where possible (to varying extents). Devenski’s late elbow procedure and his downward trend in 2018-20 will make him a non-tender candidate, particularly given that he’s only controllable through the 2021 season right now at present anyhow.
The Astros have activated second baseman Jose Altuve from the 10-day injured list and optioned right-hander Humberto Castellanos, Jake Kaplan of The Athletic tweets. Altuve’s batting second in the Astros’ lineup against the Rangers on Tuesday.
Altuve went on the IL on Sept. 5 with a sprained right knee, continuing a trend of recent problems in the joint for the former MVP. He also underwent surgery on that knee after the 2018 season. Of course, the problems don’t seem nearly as serious this time, as Altuve is back after spending the minimum amount of time on the shelf.
The hope for Houston, which is a disappointing 23-24 and clinging to a playoff spot, is that Altuve will serve as a key late-season reinforcement. Altuve, for his part, is surely trying to end the season with a flourish after struggling before his absence. The 30-year-old’s a five-time .300 hitter and a three-time 2o-home run man, but he has slashed just .224/.284/.322 with three homers through 155 plate appearances this season. The Astros turned to Aledmys Diaz and Jack Mayfield at the keystone when Altuve was out, but they’ve also logged underwhelming production this year.
With nine losses in their past 11 games, the reigning American League champion Astros have fallen under .500 (23-24) and find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. The Astros have gone almost the whole year without 2019 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, which certainly hasn’t helped matters, but they’re hoping to get him back for a start in the final week of the regular season, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com relays.
Verlander, who’s recovering from a forearm strain, threw 55-60 pitches Saturday and will soon face live hitters, which is a “very, very positive sign,” according to manager Dusty Baker.
In Baker’s estimation, no matter how late in the campaign, a Verlander return would be like a major late-season acquisition. Baker’s not wrong in that regard, as Verlander has long been an elite starter and could help decide whether the Astros make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season or sit home in the fall.
Without Verlander, who has only taken the mound once (on July 24), the Astros’ formerly elite rotation has been a middle-of-the-pack unit. Zack Greinke and Framber Valdez have posted far better field-independent pitching numbers than ERAs; on the other hand, the opposite has been true for Cristian Javier; Jose Urquidy has only made two starts; and Lance McCullers Jr. logged a 5.79 ERA before going on the injured list Sept. 6 with neck problems. Like Verlander, though, McCullers is on his way back, per McTaggart, who writes that he’ll return to the team’s rotation Wednesday.
- Speaking of returning starters, the Astros listed Lance McCullers Jr. as the starter for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, indicating that the right-hander’s time on the injured list is nearing an end. McCullers hit the 10-day IL on September 6 due to neck nerve irritation, a rather concerning-sounding issue that left a return date up in the air. After taking an anti-inflammatory injection, however, McCullers now seems on track to get back on the mound after only a minimal IL stint. The former first-rounder has a 5.79 ERA over eight starts and 37 1/3 innings this season, though the Astros will surely welcome whatever McCullers can contribute to a rotation mix that has managed middle-of-the-pack numbers despite multiple injuries.
- The Astros have been hit hard by injuries this season, but two notable reinforcements could be on the way back. Jose Altuve took some swings in the batting cage yesterday and left-hander Blake Taylor could begin throwing as early as today, manager Dusty Baker told reporters (including the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome). Altuve was placed on the 10-day injured list due to a right knee sprain on September 5, while Taylor hit the IL two days later with soreness in his throwing elbow. Should both continue to recover with no setbacks, the players could be activated from the injured list for the Astros’ upcoming series against the Rangers, with Altuve eligible for activation tomorrow (a Houston off-day) and Taylor on Wednesday.
This season hasn’t gone as hoped for the reigning American League champion Astros, who have started 22-21 while dealing with several notable injuries. They have gone nearly the entire campaign without 2019 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who made one start in July and has been out since with a forearm strain, but it seems there is hope the right-hander will return this year. Manager Dusty Baker told Jake Kaplan of The Athletic and other reporters that Verlander was in line for a 50- to 55-pitch bullpen session Wednesday.
It remains to be seen whether Verlander will get through the session without setbacks, but it’s nonetheless encouraging that he has progressed to this point. Should he get through it unscathed, Verlander could be close to rejoining the Astros, who would make the playoffs if the season ended now.
Thankfully for Verlander-less Houston, Framber Valdez has established himself as a solid starter this year, which has helped complement Zack Greinke in their staff and make up for the loss of Verlander to a degree. Rookie Cristian Javier has stopped runs at a good rate (3.46 ERA over 41 2/3 innings), meanwhile, but his peripherals aren’t as encouraging. And though the Astros did just get back Jose Urquidy back from the injured list, they had to place Lance McCullers Jr. on the IL on Sept. 6 with neck issues. So, while the Astros would be thrilled to welcome a healthy and effective Verlander back under any circumstance, he may be especially helpful in the next few weeks.
TODAY: The procedure Baker mentioned was “a mild anti-inflammatory injection to alleviate nerve irritation in [McCullers’] neck,” according to Rome.
SEPT. 8: McCullers “had some procedure done” on his neck, manager Dusty Baker announced (via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). The surgery repaired “95 to 98 percent of whatever discomfort he was feeling,” according to Baker, though it’s still unknown when McCullers will return.
SEPT. 6: The Astros have placed right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. on the 10-day injured list due to neck nerve irritation, reports Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. Beyond the requisite 10 days on the IL, a timeline for McCullers’s return is unclear. Southpaw Cionel Perez was recalled from the taxi squad to join the active roster.
McCullers pitched Friday against the Angels, failing to record an out and exiting the game after facing just five batters. He walked three Angels hitters and conceded three runs, but stated after the game that his struggles weren’t due to injury.
While we don’t know precisely how long the Astros expect McCullers to be shelved, any injury to an already-thin Houston pitching staff is a significant one. The team has been without ace Justin Verlander for practically the entire season, and Jose Urquidy has only just returned from a bout with COVID-19. As such, Houston has had to rely on inexperienced starters like Cristian Javier, Framber Valdez, and Brandon Bielak.
McCullers, for his part, has had an up-and-down campaign in his return from Tommy John surgery, which cost him all of last year. There’s been a mix of good starts and bad starts, but the numbers indicate for the most part that the 26-year-old is not quite back to the form that earned him an All-Star nod in 2017.
While he’s been known as a strikeout pitcher for his entire career, he’s averaging only 7.7 K/9 in 2020. McCullers’ sinker velocity is down ever so slightly from previous years, but the more glaring disparity is in his sinker’s spin rate, which has taken a considerable hit from where it was two years ago. That, along with decreased curveball usage (at 35%, he’s throwing the curveball less than ever), has made it more difficult to generate whiffs.