After a stay on the injured list, starting pitcher Justin Verlander finally made his 2023 debut for the New York Mets on Thursday (albeit five weeks late) against his former team, the Detroit Tigers.
Verlander, who signed a two-year contract with the Mets in the winter, was supposed to be New York's starter for the second game of the season on March 31. But just hours before Opening Day began, the Mets put Verlander on the injured list due to a shoulder issue (low-grade teres major strain). He has been working his way back ever since.
Verlander might've experienced some jitters early in Thursday's start. After getting a quick out to begin the contest, he gave up back-to-back home runs to Riley Greene and Javier Báez to put the Mets in an early 2-0 hole. Verlander then struck out Nick Maton and got Spencer Torkelson to line out to left to end the frame.
Verlander was much smoother in the second inning before working around a walk and a single in the third. He erased a fourth-inning single with a double-play and then worked around a leadoff double in the fifth to keep the score 2-0.
The Mets turned to Jeff Brigham in the sixth inning, ending Verlander's day. He tossed 79 pitches over 5 innings of work and gave up two runs on five hits in the outing. He struck out five and walked two. The 2-0 score held, meaning the $350 million Mets were swept by the team with MLB's eighth-worse record.
Injuries are one of the risks that come with signing a pitcher who turned 40 in February, but beyond this shoulder issue and a few lines on his face, Verlander is hardly showing his age.
In 2022, just one year after returning from Tommy John surgery, he won the American League Cy Young award, the third of his career and his second as a member of the Houston Astros, the team he'd been with since 2017. He finished his award-winning season with an MLB-best 1.75 ERA over 28 starts and 175 innings and capped it off by winning his second World Series ring with Houston.
Mets need Verlander's help
Verlander's return couldn't come at a better time for the Mets. They've lost eight of their past 10 games, with their two most recent losses coming at the hands — and bats — of the Tigers. Max Scherzer, who returned from his 10-game sticky stuff suspension Wednesday, got chased from that game after giving up six runs in less than four innings.
The absence of Verlander was going to be an issue for the Mets no matter what, but Scherzer and the rest of the rotation have made it a bigger problem. Only one of their starters has an ERA under 4 (Joey Lucchesi, 3.86). Kodai Senga, the promising Japanese pitcher they signed in the offseason, has struggled with command and control. Carlos Carrasco has been out since mid-April due to a bone spur in his right elbow (though he's starting a rehab assignment this weekend).
The Mets are five games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East. They're barely in front of the Philadelphia Phillies. The team is hoping that getting Verlander — and Carrasco — back will shore up their struggling rotation and give them a chance to catch Atlanta, because if not, the Mets might be in real trouble.