In the latter stages of the Houston Astros' 7-6 loss to the visiting Seattle Mariners on Sunday at Minute Maid Park, a published report revealed Astros veteran ace Justin Verlander would be lost for the season to an elbow injury, a malady that could prove catastrophic for the World Series hopefuls.
Astros manager Dusty Baker tried to walk back that report following the game, bristling at the notion that Verlander, the 2019 American League Cy Young Award winner, would be shelved.
"We know it's a forearm strain," Baker told reporters. "He's being seen by the doctor and he'll probably be shut down for a couple weeks ... and we'll reevaluate it from there. That's all I can tell you."
The Astros (2-1), set to host Seattle in the finale of a four-game set Monday, will be tasked to replace Verlander in a rotation that lost co-ace Gerrit Cole to free agency in the offseason. Verlander threw 73 pitches over six innings Friday against Seattle, and while he recorded just one swing and miss on 40 four-seam fastballs, there was no indication of an injury. According to Baker, Verlander wanted to pitch the seventh inning despite sharing that his arm felt "tender" during his appearance. Verlander underwent an MRI exam, the results of which were undisclosed.
"We're looking into that," Baker said of uncovering rotation options. "We know we're a little short, especially on veteran arms. We're still trying to decide who can help us, who's ready and who can throw strikes and quality strikes. We'll go back to the drawing board and figure it out."
Right-hander Josh James (5-1, 4.70 ERA in 2019) will make just his fifth career start for the Astros on Monday. James appeared in 49 games for Houston last season, recording 100 strikeouts over 61 1/3 innings. In his lone start of 2019, James pitched a scoreless inning against the Los Angeles Angels as the opener. Over four career starts, James is 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA.
James is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA over seven career appearances (one start) against the Mariners.
"For them to give me the ball as a starter in this kind of team and depth that we have, it means the world," James said. "I'm extremely grateful, so I'm looking forward to getting the ball (Monday) and going out and performing.
"It's super special to be on a World Series-caliber team and to be in the rotation I think is big. I think anybody would want to be in my situation. I'm grateful and I feel tremendously blessed to get the opportunity to get the ball."
Right-hander Kendall Graveman (1-5, 7.60 ERA in 2018) will start the series finale for the Mariners on Monday in what will be his first appearance since May 11, 2018, with the Oakland Athletics. Graveman missed the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on July 30, 2018. He is 4-3 with a 3.71 ERA over nine career starts against the Astros but hasn't pitched against Houston since Sept. 10, 2017, when he allowed one run on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings in a 10-2 win. His last appearance at Minute Maid Park came on Aug. 19, 2017, when he allowed two runs on six hits and three walks in six innings.
With 13 Mariners position players making their debut last Friday, Seattle will continue to use every game as an opportunity to develop while also pursuing the foremost goals of victories.
"It's all we can do is keep grinding out and some of our young guys get more comfortable as this thing goes along," Mariners manager Scott Servais said.
--Field Level Media