Astros Place Justin Verlander On IL With Calf Injury

The Astros announced a series of roster moves today, the most notable of those being Justin Verlander‘s placement on the 15-day injured list. Verlander, whose IL placement is retroactive to August 29, left his last start due to calf discomfort. Additionally, outfielder Jake Meyers was optioned to Triple-A. To take the two open rosters spots, righty Brandon Bielak and first baseman/outfielder JJ Matijevic were recalled.

Verlander, 39, pitched only six innings in 2020 and missed the entire 2021 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. He held a showcase in the offseason and showed enough promise that the Astros were willing to give him a $25MM salary this year, despite that length layoff. Up until this calf issue popped up, Verlander was pitching beyond just about everyone’s expectations for a 39-year-old returning from such a lengthy absence. Through 152 innings over 24 starts, he’s currently sporting a 1.84 ERA with a 26.5% strikeout rate, 4.5% walk rate and 38.6% ground ball rate.

His fantastic comeback season will have to take a break, at least for a little while. It doesn’t seem as though anyone is expecting a lengthy absence, based on the word coming from members of the organization today. An announcement team said that Verlander’s MRI showed “fascial disruption, but no muscle fiber disruption,” as relayed by Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle on Twitter.

Astros general manager James Click spoke to the media to provide more context, generally downplaying the significance of the issue. (Twitter links from Rome.) “This was relatively good news, is my understanding,” Click said. “Our hope and expectation is that this should be relatively short-term.” Verlander himself then spoke on the matter, with Rome relaying some more quotes on Twitter. “The doctors said there was an injury, but when it comes to calf injuries, I feel like I really kind of dodged a bullet here where the muscle isn’t involved,” Verlander said. He then added that he’s disappointed to have to go to the IL, but provided the caveat that “on the spectrum of calf injuries go, this is as good of news as I could have gotten.” He also added that, had his muscle fibers been injured, he would have been shut down for weeks, missing the rest of the season and possibly some of the playoffs.

All in all, it seems everyone involved feels Verlander can make a quick return, which would be great for both him and the team. In the short-term, there’s no reason for the Astros to panic, as their 82-47 record is the best in the American League, 11 1/2 games ahead of the Mariners in the West division. They are also effectively guaranteed to earn one of the two byes through the first round of the playoffs, as they are four games ahead of the East-leading Yankees and 13 1/2 games ahead of the Central-leading Guardians. Even without Verlander, the rotation should be in good shape, with Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier still in place. In the long-term, the ‘Stros will surely be hoping that the issue passes quick enough for Verlander to return for postseason action. There are just over five weeks remaining on the regular season schedule.

Verlander’s return could also have an impact on his offseason, as he could be returning to free agency. By surpassing 130 innings pitched this year, he vested a $25MM player option for 2023. Since he just got $25MM after two lost seasons, he stands to reason that he could surpass that number on the heels of his excellent campaign here in 2022. Based on that logic, it seems likely that he would turn down that option and return to the open market, especially if he can come back healthy and show no ill effects of this calf issue. On the other hand, if the next few weeks don’t go quite as smoothly as hoped and the injury persists, it could have a negative effect on his market this winter.

As for Meyers, 26, he had a nice debut for Houston last year, hitting .260/.323/.438 in 49 games. However, he hasn’t been able to carry that forward into 2022, as he’s slashed .209/.255/.302 for the year so far. Houston was rumored to be looking for center field upgrades at the deadline but didn’t end up pulling the trigger on a deal. Based on those slouching numbers, Meyers will be sent down to the minors to try to get back on track. Mauricio Dubon and Chas McCormick seem to be ticketed for the work in the middle of the grass without Meyers, with Rome relaying word from Click.

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