Astros ace Justin Verlander leaves spring training start early with apparent injury

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander exited his Sunday start earlier than expected. Afterward, he left the ballpark to “get some testing done,” according to what a team spokesperson told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. Verlander has dealt with groin issues this spring, but it’s not apparent if a reaggravation of that injury is what forced him from the game, per Rome.

Verlander had been slated to throw four innings on Sunday. Instead, he was limited to two frames. His fastball sat between 91 to 93 mph on the stadium radar gun, a range well below his norm, as he averaged 94.6 mph with his fastball last season. It’s possible the stadium’s gun runs cold, or that Verlander was throwing at less than max effort given it’s early March.

Verlander, 37, has long been the model of durability. He’s thrown at least 200 innings in 12 of the last 13 seasons, including each of the last four. Additionally, he’s made 30 or more starts in 13 of his 14 full big-league seasons, dating back to the 2006 campaign.

Obviously it’s too soon to know if Verlander will miss any time, or if he’ll be limited heading into the regular season. Astros manager Dusty Baker is supposed to provide an update following the Astros game against the Mets.

The Astros are not well positioned to deal with significant injuries to Verlander or Zack Greinke. The rest of their rotation — Lance McCullers Jr., Josh James, and Jose Urquidy — have never profiled as workhorse types. 

Of course, replacing Verlander would be a challenge for any team. Since joining the Astros via a late-season trade in 2017, he’s posted a 2.45 ERA and a 7.54 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 73 starts. He won the AL Cy Young Award last season and finished second in the voting in 2018. Pitchers capable of that kind of sustained production don’t grow on trees.

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