Astros GM Jeff Luhnow: Justin Verlander Is Getting Better With Age

Houston Ace Is Expected To Be Candidate For Cy Young Award

Zach Gelb
September 09, 2019 - 12:58 pm
Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) walks to the dugout after recording a strike out during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park

John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports

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The Houston Astros are reaping the benefits of Justin Verlander's resurgence. 

Verlander, who turned 36 in February, became the sixth player in major league history to throw his third career no-hitter when he struck out 14 batters against the Blue Jays on Sept. 1. It's an illustrious group highlighted by Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax. But it's also the latest display of Verlander's dominance he's had with the Astros.

Since arriving in Houston, Verlander became a two-time All Star and captured his first World Series championship. He leads the Astros' rotation and is expected to play a significant postseason role as the team looks to return to the World Series. Astros general manager and president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow joined "The Zach Gelb Show" to discuss how Verlander has improved as the years have passed. 

"He's so focused on competing and executing every single pitch," Luhnow said. "One of my favorite things to do - and usually don't get a long opportunity to do it - is to go into the clubhouse after he's done pitching when we're on the road because everybody's together in the room and he goes through pretty much every pitch he made that night. He talks about whether he could've made a better decision or whether the guy got lucky and he really thinks about his craft in a way not many people do. It's contagious because I see Gerrit Cole doing the same thing. I see [Zack] Greinke and [Wade] Miley doing the same thing now. He's so focused on executing out there.

"The numbers he's put up in Houston since he got here are better than the numbers he put up when he won the MVP of the American League with Detroit. This is a guy who's getting better with age like fine wine. We're glad we have him locked up for another two years after this year."

Verlander set a career high with 290 strikeouts last season, smashing his previous mark of 269 he set with Detroit. He is expected to be a strong candidate for the American League's Cy Young Award, a distinction he previously won in 2011, after finishing in second place in 2018. Cole, Verlander's teammate, is also expected to be among the contenders for the honor of the league's top pitcher. They both sit atop of every major pitching category. 

Verlander leads the AL in innings pitched (200), but Cole is fourth with 184.1 innings. Meanwhile, Cole's 281 strikeouts are 17 strikeouts more than Verlander's mark. Luhnow believes the race will come down to the two Astros, but can't bring himself to pick who he thinks will take the award home. 

"I love the fact that they're competing with each other," Luhnow said. "It's a friendly competition and every time one pitches, he passes the other in strikeouts. But I'm just glad they're both out there competing for it. I think they're going to be one and two. I don't think there's any doubt about it. Whoever gets it will deserve it, and the other one will probably deserve it as well."

Houston's magic number to claim the AL West is at 10 entering Monday. With Verlander, Cole and Greinke, the Astros deep rotation is set for a strong postseason push. 

"If you think about it, if you're in a seven-game series then you know you're going to have Verlander, Cole and Grienke pitching two games apiece," Luhnow said. "That's six of the seven games. That's pretty incredible. Miley is the seventh game then you've got [Roberto] Osuna and Will Harris has been our unsung hero this year in the bullpen ... But I'm glad we have the guys we have. We're going to have a good backend to the bullpen as well."

Click the audio player below to listen to Luhnow's interview in its entirety.