NEW YORK — New Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander looked a lot like old Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander as the veteran righty made his most recent debut Saturday for the team he helped win a World Series just last October.
Verlander, 40, didn’t have his best stuff but still went seven innings against the New York Yankees, giving up just two runs on seven hits while striking out four. The Yankees did end up spoiling Verlander’s debut with a 3-1 win.
“It was a battle the first few innings,” Verlander said. “I was all over the place. Not exactly sure why, but I was able to rein it in and make some better pitches and keep us in the ballgame.”
Verlander admitted his routine was thrown off a bit after Tuesday’s trade from the New York Mets, but it’s not like he had to familiarize himself with anything new while returning to the Astros. He pitched for them from 2017 through last season, winning two Cy Young Awards and a championship.
Inside the clubhouse this week, he was met with a “let’s do it again” attitude, as the Astros are attempting to become the first team to repeat as champions since the 1998-2000 Yankees.
“Even without his good stuff, he kept us in the game and saved our bullpen,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s big. That was how it was when he was here before. We can go full bullpen the day before he pitches and we can go full bullpen the day after he pitches.”
The Yankees hit eight balls off Verlander with an exit velocity of 100 mph or greater — the most off him since Statcast began tracking in 2015 — making it even more impressive he lasted as long as he did in the game. He almost didn’t make the full seven innings, as Baker came to check on him with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and Aaron Judge walking to the plate.
“I wanted to get a read on him and how he felt,” Baker said.
Verlander won the quick debate, staying in the game, and then admitted it helps to have some familiarity with the manager in those moments.
“I’m sure it does,” Verlander said with a smile. “I would hope most managers would give me the option … That was a big spot in the game with one of the best hitters in the world. I said, ‘I’m good.'”
Judge popped out to end the inning, but Houston couldn’t manage anything on offense more than a Jose Altuve solo home run in the third inning. It was the 200th of his career, joining Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell as the only Astros with 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases.
“Two hundred seems like a good number for me,” Altuve said.
As for Verlander’s return, the longtime teammates picked up where they left off, the only difference being the last time he pitched for Houston, it came in a Game 5 win during the 2022 World Series. Saturday’s outcome was different, but the feeling of having him on the mound again was the same.
“It’s like he never left,” Altuve said.