Houston ace right-hander Justin Verlander on Saturday announced that he will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his bid to return to the rotation from a previously diagnosed forearm strain.
While certainly a stunning blow to the Astros, with one week left in the regular season and Houston in themidst of a playoff push, there is little time to lament. Instead, the Astros will give the ball Jose Urquidy on Sunday and ask him to win the rubber match of a three-game set at home against Arizona.
As for Verlander, he made just one start this season before landing on the 10-day injured list July 25.
Following an extended rehabilitation, Verlander faced live hitters on Wednesday, but a subsequent MRI revealed the need for elbow ligament reconstruction. Verlander will miss the remainder of this season and the 2021 campaign, the final season of his current contract.
"No one person can replace Justin Verlander," Astros general manager James Click said. "This is going to have to be a total team effort. And if everybody steps up a little bit -- if your No. 2 starter steps into a No. 1, No. 3 steps into a No. 2 and on down the line -- we can try to cover that a little bit.
"It's part of why we're so excited about the young arms that we've got. It's been exciting to see these kids step into these opportunities, and this is an opportunity for people to step up on the big stage and show what they can do," Click said.
With their pitching staff ravaged by injuries this season, the Astros (26-26) have been forced to piecemeal a rotation reliant upon rookies. Houston has used more than a dozen rookie pitchers this season, including a handful of starters. The majority of those rookies made their major league debuts in 2020.
"All the rookies that we have this year, they've done an unbelievable job to keep us in the race," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. "To be able to make the playoffs, we've still got (eight) games to go, so I really believe in every single guy in this clubhouse to get the job done.
"Obviously we're not going to have our ace, and that's one of the best pitchers in the game in Justin Verlander. The news obviously hit hard, but at the same time we've got to stay focused and go out there and get the job done."
On the bright side, the right-handed Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) dazzled in his previous appearance on Sept. 15, limiting the Texas Rangers to one run on three hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings in a 4-1 win. It was his third start of the season.
Urquidy, who has allowed just nine hits against 64 batters faced, did not debut until Sept. 5, due to COVID-19 complications. Sunday will mark his first career appearance against Arizona and his third interleague start. He has no wins or losses and a 2.79 ERA against the National League.
Left-hander Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53 ERA) will start the rubber match for Arizona. He is 4-2 with a 3.19 ERA over seven career starts against Houston with 45 strikeouts in 48 innings.
Sunday will mark his first start at Minute Maid Park since Aug. 20, 2011, when Bumgarner allowed seven runs (six earned) on 11 hits and one walk with five strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings in a 7-5 loss. He is 0-1 with a 7.53 ERA over three starts since his return from the 10-day injured list.
The Diamondbacks (20-33) were limited to another Kole Calhoun home run, his 15th of the season, and some small-ball execution in the third inning of their 3-2 loss on Saturday in their continued search for positive developments during the stretch run of a disappointing season.
"Those little things that we preach here, it's nice to see," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. "Unfortunately, we couldn't make those two runs stand up."
--Field Level Media