Astros Lose Game and Possibly Verlander

Zack Greinke had a tough outing Sunday...and that was the least of the Astros pitching worries.
Zack Greinke had a tough outing Sunday...and that was the least of the Astros pitching worries. Photo by Jack Gorman
After two wins over the very young Seattle Mariners Friday and Saturday, all seemed well in Astro-land. Lance McCullers, Jr., after a rocky start, settled in and looked good in his first time on the field in nearly two years. The bats were what we expected. News was that Jose Urquidy and Yordan Alvarez could be back sooner than expected and even the bullpen, choc full of young arms, seemed pretty steady.

Then, Sunday happened.

Zack Greinke managed only three-and-a-third innings, leaving with three earned runs and only 58 pitches thrown. The Astros rallied in the middle innings only to fall to the Mariners 7-6 thanks to some pretty shaky bullpen work, something that was a concern from the opening of summer training camp. But, then the big news dropped.

It was reported that Justin Verlander had an elbow injury that would sideline him for the entire season. This happened while the game was still being played, so it was before the Astros could respond. Shortly after the game, Astros manager Dusty Baker said that Verlander would be rested for two weeks after developing a forearm strain. Verlander echoed those comments later on social media saying he hoped the rest would allow him to come back after a period of rest.

Talk about a rollercoaster of an afternoon for Astros fans.

First, on Verlander, the ONE area of greatest concern for the Astros was starting pitching. In addition to losing Gerrit Cole in the offseason, Verlander needed surgery during spring training and McCullers was coming off a year he missed due to Tommy Jon surgery. Additionally, Urquidy, their presumptive fourth starter, didn't even make it to Texas until this weekend.

If there was a single spot you could point to as one that could not afford injury or illness, this was it.

This was compounded by the fact the bullpen is thin. For some reason, Ryan Pressly has yet to pitch in the first three games of the season. Brad Peacock is out with an injury. Osuna has just barely returned to action after arriving late to camp. With Will Harris gone in free agency and Joe Smith opting to sit out due to concerns over the coronavirus, it meant a lot of young and questionable arms would man the 'pen at least at the start of the season.

On Sunday, the Astros gave us a little bit of everything from the mound. Greinke struggled with command and was being hit hard by the young, aggressive Mariners lineup. After his early exit, Joe Biagini looked awfully shaky, giving up a run on two hits to get out of the inning.

Youngsters came to the rescue in innings five through seven as Bryan Abreau and Blake Taylor, who had his major league debut Friday, went three hitless innings with two walks and three Ks.

With the Astros bats doing what they had done all series, it felt like they might bury the Mariners once again. They got another big inning with four in the fourth to give them a 5-4 lead after being down 4-1, and held it until the eighth. Enter Chris Devenski.

Devo, who has yet to recapture the magic he had in 2017, gave up three runs on three hits in the eighth. The Astros got a single run back in the ninth on a pair of doubles from Kyle Tucker and Michael Brantley, but M's closer Taylor Williams struck out the side including George Springer, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, to end it.

It was only fitting that we would learn about Verlander's supposed season-ending injury in the middle of the game only to find out it might not end his season after all once it was over. This feels like the kind of season we are in for from not just the Astros but the entire league. And we're only three games in.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke