Justin Verlander Shut Down With Mild Lat Strain

Spring Training-Houston Astros at New York Mets

Add another injured star pitcher to the list. We learned yesterday that Astros ace Justin Verlander has been shut down thanks to a mild lat strain (via Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle). Verlander had undergone an MRI to determine the cause of his triceps soreness, revealing the lat injury. The veteran said it’d require a “miracle” for him to be ready for Opening Day.

His recovery time is obviously based on the unreported severeness of the injury. At the very least, it sounds like Verlander will be out of action for a few weeks, and he’ll presumably make up that lost Spring Training time before eventually returning to the mound. That would mean he’s back by mid-April, which is hardly a concern. More likely, the team takes it slow with their star pitcher and welcomes him back in early May.

The two-time Cy Young winner has been remarkably durable throughout his 15-year career. Besides his rookie campaign, he’s started fewer than 30 games only once, and that came in 2015. The 37-year-old has also pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons, and that doesn’t account for the extra innings he’s put in during the Astros postseason runs.

Losing Gerrit Cole in free agency left the Astros’ rotation a bit shallow, especially with Verlander temporarily out of the picture. The team is still rostering Zach Greinke, who was once an ace in his own right (and is more than capable as a number-two pitcher). However, besides that duo, there are question marks throughout the organization.

Lance McCullers has had some mighty solid seasons, but he’s never pitched more than 130 innings in a single year. Plus, he missed the entire 2019 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery. While there’s optimism that he’ll emerge as a dependable postseason starter, it’s unfair to expect that early on in the season.

Youngster Jose Urquidy impressed during his 41-inning regular-season stint in his rookie season, and he earned national recognition for his postseason performance. Still, during his first full taste of Major League ball, the soon-to-be 25-year-old will surely have his fair share of hiccups.

Otherwise, the organization will already have to rely on an unproven option for that fifth spot, and they’ll have to find another pitcher to briefly replace Verlander. Austin Pruitt was inconsistent during his three-year stint with the Rays, and the organization generally preferred to use him out of the bullpen. Meanwhile, while Josh James earned some hype heading into last season, he disappointed in 2019. The team also has some organization depth in Cy Sneed, Framber Valdez, and Cionel Perez, but none of them inspire much confidence.

In other words, a lengthy Verlander absence could have some impact on their postseason aspirations. The offense should be able to carry them despite a lack of pitching depth, but the organization will need Verlander if they want to keep up with the American League’s other top teams.

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