Justin Verlander exits after 3 innings vs. Orioles with calf discomfort

HOUSTON — Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, the leading candidate for the American League Cy Young Award through the first five months of the regular season, was pulled from Sunday’s game against the Orioles at Minute Maid Park after only three innings with right calf discomfort. He threw 60 pitches.

There was no immediate word on Verlander’s prognosis, and Astros manager Dusty Baker said after the Astros’ 3-1 win over the Orioles that the veteran right-hander was set to undergo imaging on his calf Monday to determine the extent of the injury. Baker was at least relieved the injury wasn’t to his arm or shoulder.

“That’s the best of bad news,” Baker said. “We were glad it wasn’t anything to do with his elbow or arm or anything like that. We’ll just have to wait until he has the imaging [Monday].”

A team spokesman said the Astros’ training staff advised Verlander to leave the ballpark and get off his feet, so he wasn’t available for comment postgame on Sunday.

Baker said the injury occurred when Verlander made a move to cover first base in the third inning. With one out and runners on first and second base, Baltimore’s Anthony Santander flied out to center field, but Robinson Chirinos, who was on second, was caught in a rundown and wound up getting tagged out in an inning-ending double play.

Just as Chirinos was being tagged between second and third for the final out, Verlander darted from the grass behind the mound and toward first base in anticipation of a relay throw that wasn’t needed. He didn’t show any signs of injury while walking off the field.

“He came off the field with the third out, and he just went down the tunnel and said he felt something when he went to cover first base,” Baker said.

Verlander’s comeback from Tommy John surgery, which cost him the entire 2021 season, has been one of baseball’s biggest storylines this year. He entered Sunday’s game tied for the Major League lead with 16 wins while leading the Major Leagues in ERA (1.87) and opponents’ OPS (.510).

The Astros have been careful with Verlander’s workload this season and have been giving him extended rest between his starts. Sunday marked only the fifth time he had pitched on four days of rest this year, with the majority of his starts (13) coming on five days of rest. He threw 91 pitches in his previous start on Tuesday, when he didn’t allow a hit against the Twins.

“Obviously, extremely concerned,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like he’s been the best pitcher in baseball all year long, and we’re fortunate to have him. I don’t know any of the details.”

With three off-days in a span of 11 days beginning Monday, the Astros temporarily went back to a five-man rotation — moving Cristian Javier to the bullpen — to make sure their starters didn’t have more than a week between starts . Javier threw three innings in relief of Lance McCullers Jr. in Friday’s loss in Baltimore.

Starting pitching has been the Astros’ strength this season, led by All-Stars Verlander and Framber Valdez. They have top prospect Hunter Brown (No. 71 overall by MLB Pipeline) knocking at the door at Triple-A, but losing Verlander would be a significant blow for a team trying to hold down the top spot in the AL standings and with World Series aspirations.

If Verlander is out for an extended amount of time, the Astros could employ a five-man rotation of Valdez, McCullers, Luis Garcia, José Urquidy and Javier, with Brown perhaps taking a slot if they wanted to go back to a six-man spin.

Verlander’s early exit snapped the Astros’ franchise-record streak of 41 consecutive games in which their starting pitcher threw at least five innings. It was Verlander’s shortest start since giving up six runs and seven hits in two innings against the Mariners on Aug. 9, 2018.

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