Justin Verlander has traditionally struggled at Progressive Field? That’s fake news, at least during his Astros’ tenure, anyway.
Verlander—who entered Tuesday night’s contest with a 5.56 career ERA in Cleveland’s home ballpark, where he had only previously appeared while donning a Detroit Tigers cap—completely engulfed the Indians, twirling seven shutout innings and striking out 13 in a 2-0 shutdown victory for the Houston Astros.
The Indians have been torrid of late, reeling off a 34-14 stretch that dates to the beginning of June—the best mark in baseball during that span. After previously facing a double-digit deficit in the standings, Cleveland entered the night trailing the Minnesota Twins by only two games in the AL Central and atop the AL Wild Card race, with starting pitching reinforcements on the way in former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and the talented Danny Salazar (who will start the finale of this series).
However, it was this season’s premier Cy Young candidate who made his presence known Tuesday. Verlander set the tone early, striking out four of the first six batters he faced, and didn’t allow a baserunner through two frames.
In particular, he had a filthy slider working early.
Justin Verlander, Filthy ???mph Slider. ❓ pic.twitter.com/8DXzciWosK— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 30, 2019
Justin Verlander, Wicked ??mph Slider and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/UJrCv1Fd4v— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 30, 2019
And as you’ll witness later, he had it working often.
Jose Altuve singled with one out in the third inning for his second hit of the night, but was picked off with Alex Bregman at the plate to end the inning.
Roberto Perez recorded a single to start the third inning for the Indians’ first hit of the game. Verlander retired the next three batters, including two strikeouts, to leave Perez at first base. Through three frames, Verlander had struck out two Indians in each inning.
For a while, Indians’ starter and All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber matched the Astros’ ace. Although Bieber allowed a Yordan Alvarez single in the fourth, he struck out three Astros looking in the inning to keep the game scoreless.
Robinson Chirinos broke the scoring drought in the fifth with his 13th home run of the year, a solo shot to the power alley in right-center.
Now that the Astros are fully healthy, that’s their No. 9 hitter.
Altuve smoked a two-out double past third base later in the inning for his third hit of the night, which put him over .300 for the season.
Brantley followed with a liner to right that was initially ruled a catch, though first-base umpire Chris Segal quickly changed his call to a base-hit as Altuve scampered home. Cleveland challenged the call, which was swiftly ruled a trapped ball and the Astros were on top 2-0.
Verlander did exactly what is asked of a pitcher when given the lead: He shut down the opposition, striking out the side in bottom half of the fifth to give him nine strikeouts total.
Verlander achieved a personal milestone with two more strikeouts in the sixth.
Justin Verlander just struck out the 2,900th batter of his career.— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) July 31, 2019
He kept it going while facing the heart of the Indians’ order in seventh, striking out two more batters.
Verlander finished his night with 13 strikeouts, including a trio against Jose Ramirez, who has finished third in AL MVP voting each of the past two seasons. The Indians did not record an extra-base hit all game and only one runner reached second base, which occurred on a stolen base by Francisco Lindor with two outs.
Verlander allowed only two hits and didn’t walk a batter to bring his WHIP this season down to 0.81. If that holds, it would register in the Top 5 single-season WHIPs of all-time and as the second-best since the end of the Dead Ball Era, behind Pedro Martinez’s 0.73 WHIP in 2000.
Oh, here’s the later I was telling you about:
Will Harris, filling in for typical set-up man Ryan Pressly, who’s still nursing a sore left knee, struck out two Indians—both lefthanded batters—in a scoreless eighth inning.
Roberto Osuna notched his 24th save in 28 chances on just six pitches to retire the Indians in order in the ninth.
Though he took the loss, Bieber (10-4, 3.40) pitched well for Cleveland, going seven innings and allowing two runs on a season-high nine hits.
Altuve’s 3-for-4 night puts him at a cool .300 on the season. He was hitting .270 as recently as 12 days ago and dipped as low as .235 on June 20.
Yuli Gurriel extended his hitting streak to 17 games with a first-inning single.
Former Astro Tyler Clippard pitched a scoreless eighth for Cleveland and Nick Wittgren tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
Box score and videos here.
The Astros will continue their three-game set with the Indians Wednesday night. Astros’ rookie Jose Urquidy (1-0, 4.26) is slated to oppose fellow rookie Zach Plesac (5-3, 3.10). Urquidy has pitched well for Houston his last two times out, allowing just two runs and six hits while striking out 15 batters in 13 innings. He earned his first major-league win against the Arlington Rangers July 20. Plesac has fared similarly in his last two starts, earning victories in each while allowing two runs in 13 innings. First pitch Friday is slated for 6:10 CT, by which time the trade deadline will have expired and the Astros are likely to have a new addition to the club.