JUPITER, Fla. (AP)As far as Houston ace Justin Verlander is concerned, the groin tightness that has bothered him much of the spring is done with.
The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner made his spring debut Tuesday, surrendering three runs, two earned, during 2 2/3 innings of a 6-3 loss against St. Louis.
“I think after today I can start to forget about wondering about my groin and just go about my routine and just worry about getting my pitch shape and deception where I want it,” Verlander said.
The groin issue prompted Verlander to throw a controlled two-inning live bullpen session last week in place of his scheduled start.
Slated to throw in the neighborhood of 50 pitches on Tuesday, Verlander threw 53, hitting 97 on the scoreboard radar gun.
“I thought he was very good,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “His first time out, his velocity was better than we expected and I think maybe better than he expected.”
Verlander wasn’t as pleased with the location of his pitches, particularly struggling with the command of his slider.
His desire to get a feel for that pitch ultimately drove his pitch count higher.
“Got some counts where I could put some guys away with the slider and just wasn’t executing very well,” Verlander said. “And then you’re like, let me throw that again and still didn’t execute it.”
Verlander did develop a better feel for the pitch as the game progressed, throwing two impressive sliders in a strikeout of Yadier Molina, the penultimate batter he faced. Verlander’s third strikeout of the game would be his last one.
The final at-bat didn’t go as well as Verlander would have hoped.
Realizing he was near the end of his outing, Verlander decided to really let loose, sending a handful of high-effort fastballs toward Paul Goldschmidt.
“To a hitter of his caliber, you can’t really do that.” Verlander said.
With the count full, Goldschmidt pounded Verlander’s final pitch, a fastball high and away, over the center field wall for his second homer of the spring.
“To be honest it was just kind of, OK, let’s let some go a little bit,” Verlander said. “Even though it was coming out good early I was still a little cognizant of it. There toward the end I didn’t feel anything all game so it was like, ‘OK let me trust this thing a little bit more and just throw the fastball and try to let it eat.’”
NOTES: For the first time this spring, Baker had planned to create a lineup card indicative of what the Astros could show on opening day. Injuries and sickness prevented that from happening. Jose Altuve is battling an illness that Baker said has struck several other Astros. Baker told Altuve not to come to the park Tuesday. … Outfielder Yordan Alvarez and catcher Martin Maldonado both had their names written into the original lineup card, but a sore knee prevented Alvarez from playing. A lingering sore thumb suffered on a foul tip kept Maldonado out of the lineup.