Astros: Justin Verlander could miss season with elbow injury

The Houston Astros could be without ace Justin Verlander for the remainder of the season.

Whatever hopes the Houston Astros had to make a return to the World Series this year may have just been shattered. A completely unexpected bombshell hit on Sunday as the Houston Chronicle reported that Justin Verlander will miss the remainder of the season due to an elbow injury.

For what it’s worth, manager Dusty Baker said after Sunday’s game that Verlander has a “forearm strain” and will be “shut down for a couple of weeks,” and Verlander himself said the same. Both seem to be hopeful that the issue will clear up with some rest. It’s still extremely concerning, and I wouldn’t write off the Chronicle’s report just yet considering a forearm strain is often linked to elbow problems.

Lance McCullers Jr. was diagnosed with a forearm strain in Aug. 2018 and underwent Tommy John surgery after the season ended. We don’t know that Verlander’s issue is the same, but it’s entirely possible that Verlander and the team are letting the elbow rest, awaiting a second opinion or the results from additional tests before making a final decision. It’s never ideal for a 37-year-old to undergo this procedure, and he did undergo an MRI on Saturday.

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The news comes as a complete surprise, as no one outside the organization seemed to have any hint that Verlander was hurt. He looked like himself when he pitched the Opening Day game on Friday, throwing 73 pitches in a six-inning outing in which he allowed two runs on three hits with a walk and seven strikeouts.

The low pitch count was assumed to be a result of the shorter ramp-up time in summer camp. His velocity wasn’t noticeably lower and he didn’t seem to be in any kind of discomfort. We don’t know any details about the injury or when/how it occurred, so hopefully we’ll know more in the coming weeks.

Around the Bowl and Down the Hole

Verlander’s loss is a devastating blow to a team that can’t afford further problems with its pitching staff. Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley are gone from last year’s team and Jose Urquidy is likely a few weeks away from being game ready. Zack Greinke struggled in his first outing on Sunday and Lance McCullers, while looking strong, is still just in his first season back from his own surgery.

With the postseason having been expanded to 16 teams, the Astros still have a decent shot at making the playoffs. Barring a rash of injuries, they still have a strong offense and plenty of talent on the roster. Without Verlander, they probably aren’t the favorites to win the division, but they can still play well enough to make it to October.

The problem is that unless GM James Click pulls off a blockbuster trade along the lines of the one Luhnow made to acquire Verlander, the Astros just don’t have the pitching to make a deep playoff run. Maybe the offense gets hot and carries them to a win in the first round, but it’s hard to see them advancing much farther without their ace.

The silver lining in all this is they’ll have an opportunity to get all these young pitchers some good experience in the majors. It’ll help the team evaluate their multitude of arms and see just who can be relied on for the future. It’ll also help them decide how much pitching help to pursue this offseason.

But that’s little consolation today. The hopes and expectations for these Astros were sky high, but they’ve taken a huge hit. Not only do we have to be concerned about Verlander’s health and the pitching staff as a whole, but we also have to deal with players like George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hitting free agency this winter. These next several months will be pivotal for the history of this franchise.