It looked like Justin Verlander turned a corner last Friday when he allowed three runs over seven innings against the Mariners. He struck out seven and walked just one batter. It was the first time he had issued two walks or fewer since April 12. However, the optimism from that outing could prove to be short-lived.
Verlander struggled once again Thursday afternoon, giving up six runs (five earned) over seven innings in a loss to the Blue Jays. He allowed eight hits -- including back-to-back homers to Juan Francisco and Brett Lawrie in the sixth inning -- and four walks while notching four strikeouts. Going back to May 1, he has yielded 33 runs in 46 innings over seven starts for an ugly 5.67 ERA. His ERA sits at 4.19 for the year and he's averaging just 6.4 K/9, his lowest strikeout rate since his rookie season in 2006.
Perhaps this is just a blip. Remember, Verlander had core muscle repair surgery in January, so maybe there are lingering effects. Still, it's worth mentioning that his fastball velocity has declined steadily in recent seasons, from 94.3 MPH in 2012 to 93.3 MPH last year and 92.2 MPH so far this season. Is this the new normal for Verlander? Who knows. I certainly wouldn't bet against him adjusting and rebounding. But the Tigers have some reason to be concerned. Verlander, 31, is only in the second year of a seven-year, $180 million extension.
Latos in Limbo
The Reds were hoping that Wednesday's minor league rehab start would be the final hurdle before Mat Latos would finally be able to make his season debut, but they might have to wait a little bit longer for him to join the rotation.
Latos was forced to leave his latest rehab start with Triple-A Louisville after five innings and 67 pitches because of a calf cramp. The goal going in was for him to get stretched out to 90 or 100 pitches, so his status is in limbo at the moment. The Reds will see how he bounces back before making a final decision, but it's possible they'll have him make another rehab start to be on the safe side.
Latos began the season on the disabled list following surgery in February to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The original plan called for him to join the Reds' rotation in mid-April, but his return has been delayed due to a flexor mass strain in his right forearm.
After taking Carlos Correa in 2012 and Mark Appel last year, the Astros had their third straight No. 1 overall pick in Thursday's First-Year Player Draft. They used it to select Brady Aiken, a high school pitcher out of California. The 17-year-old is the third prep pitcher to ever be selected No. 1 overall and the first since 1991 when the Yankees took Brien Taylor.
"This is the most advanced high school pitcher I've seen in my entire career," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters about Aiken. "He has command like I've never seen before."
Luhnow was obviously quite pleased with his selection, but Aiken is a long way from making an impact in the majors. Still, he's yet another young player for Astros fans to dream on.
The Marlins followed the Astros by taking high school right-hander Tyler Kolek with the No. 2 pick. This marked the first time ever that two prep pitchers were taken with the first two picks of the draft. Rounding out the top-five, the White Sox took NC State left-hander Carlos Rodon while the Cubs selected Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber and the Twins picked high school shortstop (and son of former major leaguer Tom Gordon and brother of Dee Gordon) Nick Gordon.
As for who we could see in MLB fairly quickly, it's best to keep an eye on the college players. In other words, names like Rodon, Schwarber, LSU right-hander Aaron Nola (who went seventh to the Phillies), Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto (who went 10th to the Mets), and NC State shortstop Trea Turner (who was selected No. 13 overall by the Padres). Some think Nola could reach the majors the fastest of the bunch. The Reds could quickly push Virginia right-hander Nick Howard, who was selected No. 19 overall Thursday, but only if they use him as a reliever.
AL Quick Hits: Mike Trout (back) went 2-for-5 with a triple and an RBI double as the DH on Thursday in his return to action … Edwin Encarnacion (back) sat out Thursday's game against the Tigers … Masahiro Tanaka held the Athletics to one run over six innings Thursday for his ninth win … Colby Rasmus (hamstring) could begin a minor league rehab assignment early next week … Drew Pomeranz completed seven innings for the first time in his career Thursday, but allowed two runs and took the loss against the Yankees … Carlos Beltran (elbow) went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts Thursday in his return from the disabled list ... Matt Wieters (elbow) played catch Thursday, but he remains a question mark for the Orioles and fantasy owners … Yordano Ventura (elbow) returned to action Thursday and allowed two runs over six innings in a win over the Cardinals … George Springer drove in three runs Thursday in a win over the Orioles … Oswaldo Arcia hit a grand slam and a double before leaving Thursday's game against the Brewers with a right ankle sprain. He's considered day-to-day … Chris Tillman's struggles continued Thursday against the Rangers, as he allowed five runs and failed to make it out of the second inning … Alexi Ogando has been shut down for at least three weeks due to inflammation and ligament "wear and tear" in his right elbow … Bud Norris (forearm) expects to make his next scheduled start next Monday against the Red Sox … Miguel Gonzalez (side) will attempt to play catch Friday, but he's not a sure thing to start Saturday … Astros prospect right-hander Mark Appel is dealing with tendinitis in his right thumb, but is expected to return to action on June 12 … Tommy Hunter (groin) will be activated from the disabled list Sunday …
NL Quick Hits: Troy Tulowitzki went 2-for-4 with his 16th homer Thursday in a loss to the Diamondbacks … Bryce Harper (thumb) hasn't been cleared for baseball activities yet, but Nationals manager Matt Williams is hoping he'll be able to return around July 1 … Joey Votto (quad) fielded ground balls at first base and took batting practice Thursday, but there's still no timetable for his return … Carlos Gomez launched a three-run homer in Thursday's win over the Twins … Madison Bumgarner fired eight innings of one-run ball in a win over the Reds on Thursday … Doug Fister gave up two runs over seven innings in Thursday's win over the Phillies … Anthony Rizzo went 2-for-4 with a go-ahead solo homer in a win over the Mets on Thursday … Andrew Cashner (elbow) will be activated to start Saturday against the Nationals … Michael Morse slugged a two-run homer in Thursday's win over the Reds and is now up to 13 home runs and 41 RBI on the year … Martin Prado had three more hits Thursday and has pulled his batting average up to .283 on the year … Kolten Wong left Thursday's game against the Royals with left shoulder soreness … Marcell Ozuna homered and drove in four runs in Thursday's win over the Rays … Chris Owings went 3-for-4 with a home run, four RBI, and two runs scored in Thursday's win over the Rockies … Jordan Lyles was placed on the disabled list Thursday with a fractured left (non-throwing) hand … Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard was sent for X-rays after he injured his left (non-throwing) shoulder in a home plate collision during a start with Triple-A Las Vegas …