HOUSTON, Texas (AP) — Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander is doing well in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and says he still has unbridled passion for the game at 38.
However, the two-time Cy Young Award winner can’t deny that he’s loved the extra time at home with his supermodel wife Kate Upton and 2 1/2-year-old daughter Genevieve over the past few months.
His daughter was in the room but off camera as Verlander spoke to reporters on Friday. Genevieve, whom he calls Vivi, began saying “daddy” while he answered a question, eliciting an adorable response from the right-hander.
He smiled broadly before putting a finger to his mouth and whispering: “shhhhhh, please.” Later when she began babbling again, he sweetly told her she’d have to go in the other room if she couldn’t be quiet
“This this little girl that’s sitting right behind the camera right now and is just everything,” he said. “It’s such a special a special thing, special bond, father-daughter... I love the game of baseball. I still have so much passion for it and I’m still playing to the wheels fall off. But this time that I’ll never get back is has completely changed my perspective of things.”
Verlander is throwing from 90 feet and feeling great, but said it’s far too early to have a timeline for his return.
Verlander, made just one start in 2020, pitching six innings on July 24 in a win over Seattle on opening day before being placed on the injured list with strained right forearm. He attempted a comeback after he was injured, but announced on Sept. 19, 2020 that he needed Tommy John surgery and underwent the procedure on Oct. 1.
Verlander is making $33 million this year, then is eligible for free agency. He said he hasn’t had any conversations with the Astros about his future with the team and said he wouldn’t expect there to be any until much farther down the road.
“I don’t know why there would be at this point,” he said. “I think anybody would like to see how my rehab continues to go further down the line. I think I would have to prove that I’m that I’m healthy before that was even a topic of conversation.”
He had one year left on his contract when he signed a new deal adding $66 million over two seasons before the 2019 season. He hates that he was able to play just one game in the time the new deal covered.
“That gnaws at me,” he said. “But... this was an unfortunate injury that nobody could have seen coming. But I still do like to earn my keep.”
Verlander joined the Astros in a trade on Aug. 31, 2017 and his stellar performance helped them to their first World Series title that season. He is 43-15 with a 2.45 ERA and 640 strikeouts in 74 starts in Houston.
Verlander went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 2019, striking out a career-high 300 and throwing the third no-hitter of his career to win his second career Cy Young Award. He pitched 223 innings, most in the majors, and made six more starts in the postseason as the Astros reached the World Series.
Verlander is 226-129 with a 3.33 ERA in 16 seasons. Along with his Cy Young Awards, he was voted the 2011 AL MVP and was the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year. He has 3,013 strikeouts.
He was asked if he thinks he can be an even better pitcher when he returns after recovering from this surgery.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “Nothing’s off the table. I hope that I am. I hope all this work is for something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be... better. I mean, the last season I was healthy I won the Cy Young, so anything on top of that is gravy.”
“But I definitely think I can get back to the pitcher that I was at the least,” he continued.