Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander looks ready for this season and the next decade.
Justin Verlander has thrown three no-hitters in his career, with the most recent coming last season with the Astros. It’s a shame we can’t count Thursday’s intrasquad outing as his fourth, because the Houston ace was mowing down his teammates.
Granted, Verlander only pitched three innings, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive they were. He pitched against what will essentially be the team’s everyday lineup, with Garrett Stubbs stepping in for the absent Yordan Alvarez. Against this stacked group, Verlander struck out five of the ten hitters he faced, with the only baserunner reaching on an error.
He struck out George Springer twice, and also fanned Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa along the way. Considering this was his first time pitching in a game-like setting since undergoing groin surgery in March, calling it a success might be an understatement.
How was he so good? The long layoff thanks to COVID-19 allowed Verlander to go through a “full rebuild process” with his mechanics, tweaking things to help make him more effective and durable. It’s hard to think of him being better than he was last season, when he won 21 games, struck out 300 batters and won the AL Cy Young Award, but he seems to think he can be.
After injuring his groin in Spring Training, he came to realize his mechanics as they were last season would end up causing more injuries. “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary,” Verlander said. “But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight or 10 more years.”
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At age 37, Verlander shows no signs of slowing down. He had one of his best years last season, and if his comments and Thursday’s results are any indication, he’s got plenty left in the tank. If his body allows him, he certainly could pitch well into his 40s, much like his idol Nolan Ryan.
There’s another Ryan comparison here that could come up next year. Verlander is under contract with the Astros through 2021, which he’ll pitch at age 38. The team simply cannot make the same mistake it did with Ryan when it let him leave in free agency after the 1988 season.
Ryan had pitched that year at age 41, and owner John McMillan ridiculously wanted him to take a pay cut despite his continued success. Instead, Ryan moved up north to Arlington and continued to pitch effectively for several more seasons. If not for McMillan’s penny pinching, Ryan could’ve finished his career in Houston and worn an Astros cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.
The team should learn from its own history and ensure Verlander never wears another uniform. If he wants to pitch another decade, he should do it in Houston. Regardless of how much money he’s worth or how much of a risk the team is worried about taking, this is a situation where you just don’t let him go. He’s meant too much to this franchise in such a short time, and he’s a surefire Hall of Famer. You don’t just let those guys leave.
In the meantime, assuming there are awards handed out after this year, Verlander looks primed to compete for his third Cy Young. His competitive fire and desire to excel haven’t waned at all, and the Astros are sure going to need him this year.