Astros News: Justin Verlander could be closer to returning than we think

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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Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander could be closer to returning than we realized.

We’ve known it would be a long road back for Justin Verlander since he was sidelined after his Opening Day start, but he might have found some more of his superhuman ability and crept up on us a little bit. Astros manager Dusty Baker said on Wednesday that Verlander was throwing a 50-55 pitch bullpen session in Houston, which came as quite a surprise.

From what we’ve heard, things were progressing slowly but steadily for the 37-year-old as he’s attempted to work his way back from what was described a “forearm strain” this year. The suspicion, of course, is that it’s code for some type of elbow issue, and the idea of Tommy John surgery has definitely been floating around. Many doubted that Verlander would be able to pitch again this year.

When it became clear that he was going to try to pitch again in 2020, I suggested he could pitch in relief, perhaps even as the team’s closer. Doing so would get him back on the field more quickly and put less stress on his arm, and it’s not like the Astros couldn’t use him in the bullpen. Verlander could pitch left-handed and be worthy of a spot in this bullpen.

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But if he’s actually throwing 50-55 pitches in a bullpen session, he’s much farther along than we realized, and he’s likely ticketed for the rotation. That could suggest he might even be able to make a start before the regular season is over, though the team of course has not given any kind of timeline for his return. But if he’s throwing that many pitches, then it’s certainly possible.

And if he’s going to pitch in the postseason, he’s going to have to be ready fairly soon. There are only two and a half weeks left in the regular season, and the Astros might not want to just throw Verlander out there in a postseason game without him having faced any real competition. They would if they had to, of course, and it would still be worth a shot, but it’s better to get him one regular season game if possible.

We should hopefully know more in the coming days, but it’s an encouraging sign that Verlander is apparently up to such a strong workload. If he doesn’t experience any setbacks, then it’s entirely possible the Astros could have him in their rotation in the playoffs.

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