The Houston Astros were dealt a major setback in their quest to return to the World Series for the third time in four years when it was announced Sunday that pitcher Justin Verlander has a forearm strain and will be shut down “for a couple of weeks,” according to manager Dusty Baker.
Verlander, the team’s ace, pitched for the Astros on Friday and experienced “tenderness,” which resulted in an MRI on Saturday according to Baker.
The news of Verlander getting shut down likely echoed through the Astros dugout like a well-placed swing with a Louisville Slugger to the side of a trash can.
In a normal season, a 14-day stint on the injured list (IL) is no big deal. However, in this 60-games in 66 days COIVD-19 inspired season, two weeks represents close to a third of the regular season. Plus, there is no guarantee that Verlander will be ready when the two weeks is up.
This is not Verlander’s first flirtation with injury this year. Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was expected to begin the season on the IL back in March after having groin surgery and experiencing muscle soreness in the back of his shoulder.
The delayed start to the regular season created enough time for Verlander’s groin and shoulder to heal allowing the 37-year-old to take the mound for opening day.
Unfortunately for Verlander, and the Astros, a new injury popped up.
During Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays versus Toronto Blue Jays broadcast, Rays broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, mentioned that the shortened amount of time players had to get ready for the season would likely lead to many injuries as players tried to get up to speed in half the time of a traditional Spring Training.
Viewers did not need to wait long to see the prophecy from the broadcast booth come true. In the sixth inning, Toronto center fielder Randal Grichuk left the game after experiencing discomfort in his right sacroiliac joint while tracking down a ball at the outfield wall.
Three innings later, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, a former teammate of Verlander, left with right elbow soreness after struggling with pitch velocity that allowed the Rays to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Due in part to Giles’ struggles, the Rays managed to tie the game from two runs down and ultimately won in walk off fashion in the 10th inning.
While I am ecstatic that the Rays won, I never want to see anyone get injured on the field.
No timetable has been announced for the return of Giles and Grichuk to the Blue Jays lineup. Much like the Astros with Verlander, the Blue Jays will just have to wait and see how long they are without their teammates.
Back when the rumblings of playing baseball in 2020 were percolating, I mentioned that it was asinine to rush players back to play a shortened season that would not only expose them to a deadly virus, but would also lead to the possibility of increased injuries, all in the name of saying that baseball was played in the middles of a COVID-19 pandemic.
I take no joy in saying that just a few games into the season it appears my prediction was correct.
Verlander, Giles and Grichuk are just three of the players already injured. Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, left his start in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies after one inning due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Also on Sunday, pitcher Reynaldo López, of the Chicago White Sox, left the game in the first inning mid-batter due to right shoulder tightness.
Aside from players leaving games early due to injuries, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both were scratched from their Opening Day starts due to injuries.
John Means and Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles are both on the IL for arm fatigue. The list goes on and on with more players likely to be added daily.
Additionally, players with the Nationals, Rays, Reds, and others have yet to take the field due to being in the COVID-19 quarantine protocol.
While I admit that I am enjoying watching baseball on TV, it is not like I am unable to find things to do with my time if a 2020 MLB season did not happen. Providing fans a few hours of entertainment still does not seem worth the risk to players health both from COVID-19, as well as freak injuries like the ones that are running through the MLB with the same reckless abandon that COVID-19 is spreading across America.
An athlete’s career is short, and skills usually diminish with age. So, I understand the competitive nature of players wanting to take the field as often as possible. In that way, a 2020 season of any length, even one that allows over half of the teams in the league to make the playoffs, makes sense.
However, when one considers that this season is taking place amidst a global public health crisis, the optics get a little murkier.
As far as the Astros go, even without Verlander on the mound, they are likely to be one of the 16-best teams this year and should make the playoffs. Assuming they do make the playoffs, and Verlander’s injury is healed by then, that should help them in the postseason.
Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t have other players joining Verlander on the IL.
The 2020 MLB season will be one for the ages. Hopefully it is a one-time only thing, and normalcy returns to the diamond, as well as the world in general, by the time Spring Training 2021 rolls around.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to give myself another quarantine haircut.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson