Justin Verlander injury: Astros ace shut down due to lat strain; no timetable for return

The Houston Astros announced that ace Justin Verlander will be shut down indefinitely after he was diagnosed with a mild lat strain on Monday. There is no timetable on a return for the right-hander, and he could start the 2020 season on the injured list. Verlander, 37, left a spring training start early on Sunday, and the team initially said he was experience “triceps sorness.” An MRI revealed an issue with his lat.

Here’s what general manager James Click told reporters, including MLB.com’s Alyson Footer, regarding the diagnosis: “The initial MRI was a mild lat strain. It’s a situation where we’re going to reassess, see how he feels and right now, we’re going to no-throw for a little bit.” When asked if Verlander will be ready for Opening Day, Click said the club doesn’t know and it’ll just depend on how his body responds.

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 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.

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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