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Astros: Time to start worrying about Justin Verlander?

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 08: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 08: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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UPDATE 3/9/2020 12:30 p.m.

Astros GM James Click says Justin Verlander has a mild lat strain and will be shut down for the time being. There’s no word yet on when he will resume throwing, but it looks like he may not be ready for Opening Day.

ORIGINAL STORY 3/9/2020 7:00 a.m.

Is it time for the Astros to start worrying about Justin Verlander’s health?

In a move that had Astros fans holding their collective breath, ace Justin Verlander was removed earlier than expected from his Spring Training start on Sunday. Following the game, manager Dusty Baker told the media that the early exit was due to some right triceps soreness and was precautionary, but that Verlander will undergo tests.

This is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Verlander dealt with a sore groin early in Spring Training, so the fact that he’s got a second area of concern is a bit troubling. His velocity was down in Sunday’s start as well, as his fastball was sitting in the low 90s after he’d hit 97 in his first outing.

The second reason is Verlander has been exceptionally durable throughout his career. He’s made at least 30 starts in 13 of his 14 full major league seasons. The only time he failed to do that was in 2015 when he missed two months with a right triceps strain. Now that he’s dealing with right triceps soreness, it’s slightly alarming.

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Plus, he’s probably even more important to the team’s success than he has been since the 2017 title run. The departure of Gerrit Cole means the club will be leaning heavily on Verlander and Zack Greinke to get them through the season. Lance McCullers Jr. will be on an innings limit and the rest of the rotation will be relatively young and unproven.

Durability is Key

Verlander is on record as saying he wants to pitch well into his 40s, much like his hero Nolan Ryan. I have no doubt that he’d be able to be an effective pitcher for that long if he can stay healthy. But there’s the rub — will his body allow him to pitch that long?

He’s 37 years old and has nearly 3,000 regular season innings under his belt, plus another 187.2 in the postseason. He’s been a workhorse for so long, throwing 200-plus innings in 12 of the past 13 seasons. Like Indiana Jones said, “it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”

Still, it’s not time for fans to panic just yet. We’ll know more when the results of these tests come back to see if there’s any kind of injury. If nothing shows up, it could just be that Verlander gets a bit of extra rest and then puts together a couple more outings to get ramped up for Opening Day. He bounced back quickly from the groin injury, so he could do the same here.

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But the fact that he’s had two injury scares in such close proximity is a little scary. Losing Verlander for any significant length of time would be incredibly damaging to the Astros. So while it’s not time to panic, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the ace’s health.

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