Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Astros’ Justin Verlander and Angels’ Noah Syndergaard impress in returns from Tommy John surgery

For the first time in 624 days, Justin Verlander took a big league mound for the Houston Astros on Saturday night (GameTracker). Verlander made his first start since suffering an elbow injury on Opening Day 2020. That was the shortened 60-game season that began in July. Verlander had Tommy John surgery in October 2020 and missed the 2021 season while rehabbing.

Although you couldn’t say it was easy, Verlander’s return was very successful. He held the Los Angeles Angels to one run, a Jared Walsh solo home run, in five innings. He struck out Shohei Ohtani three times and stranded two runners in the fourth and again in the fifth. That includes emptying the tank to retire Ohtani and Mike Trout with runners on second and third in the fifth inning.

Verlander’s velocity was there. His fastball averaged 94.6 mph Saturday, identical to his 94.6 mph average fastball in 2019, his last full season. He topped out at 96.1 mph. Verlander also got nine misses on 36 swings, a solid 25 percent. He threw several elevated fastballs by Angels hitters, a pitch that has long been Verlander’s calling card. A successful return, through and through.

Opposite Verlander on Saturday was Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard had Tommy John surgery in March 2020 and returned to make two one-inning “starts” with the New York Mets at the end of last season. They amounted to showcases heading into free agency. Saturday was Syndergaard’s first real start since Sept. 29, 2019. That was 923 days ago.

Syndergaard lived in the mid-90s with his fastball Saturday and, truth be told, he was more impressive than Verlander. He limited hard contact (only three of the 20 batters he faced hit the ball out of the infield) and his offspeed stuff was sharp too. Needless to say, that’s an encouraging sign for the Angels. It’s hard to see them as a postseason club without an effective Syndergaard.

Because of the shortened spring training, just about every starting pitcher in baseball came into the regular season on a pitch limit and not fully stretched out. Verlander threw 80 pitches Saturday and will likely up it to 90-95 pitches next time out. Syndergaard threw 76 pitches and is on track for 85-90 pitches in his next start.

Verlander, 39, returned to the Astros on a one-year contract worth $25 million this past offseason. The deal includes a $25 million player option for 2023. The 29-year-old Syndergaard is on a one-year, $21 million contract with the Halos.

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