Justin Verlander
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Justin Verlander reaches career milestone with 3,000th strikeout

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What could Justin Verlander possibly add to a career that already includes three no-hitters, eight All-Star designations, a World Series championship ring, 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award, and a handful of equally-illustrious titles? During Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Angels, he answered that question by setting two new records: his 300th strikeout of the 2019 season and the 3,000th strikeout of his Major League career.

Entering his final start of the regular season, the Astros’ ace needed six strikeouts to gain entrance into the 3,000-strikeout club — a club that currently boasts just 17 other members, most of whom have already been enshrined in Cooperstown. Getting to an even 300 strikeouts in 2019 presented a more difficult challenge. With 288 whiffs already under his belt, Verlander only had to get three more strikeouts to best his previous single-season record of 290, but required a full dozen to bring his total to 300.

In the end, he dealt 12 strikeouts over six innings, reaching both marks with ease and improving to a final record of 21-6 on the year. After striking out the side in the second and issuing two more strikeouts to Kaleb Cowart and Brian Goodwin in the third, Verlander notched no. 3,000 with a 2-2 slider to Kole Calhoun in the fourth. It wasn’t a perfect strikeout — the ball darted away from the plate and caromed toward the dugout, allowing Calhoun to advance to first — but it still counted toward Verlander’s impressive career total.

The rest of the inning got away from Verlander for a little while, as Andrelton Simmons belted a home run to score Calhoun and Kevan Smith wrested another base hit out of the hurler, but he soon got things under control again and managed to strike out the side in both the fourth and the fifth. During the sixth inning, Calhoun came up to bat again and struck out on a foul tip — giving Verlander strikeout no. 12 for the night and no. 300 for the season. He’ll finish his regular season campaign with a 21-6 record in 34 starts and a 2.58 ERA, 1.7 BB/9, 12.1 SO/9, and 6.2 fWAR through 223 innings.

The Astros couldn’t have asked for a better regular season finale from their no. 1 starter, especially as they gear up for their third consecutive trip to the postseason next week. Even better, the win — their 106th of the year — guarantees them home-field advantage through the playoffs.

Bryce Harper played some third base in an intrasquad game

Bryce Harper third base
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Phillies star outfielder Bryce Harper played some third base during Monday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. Harper had been pestering manager Joe Girardi for the opportunity and the skipper finally gave in.

Girardi told Harper, “No diving. And make sure your arm is loose.” Harper had the opportunity to field one ball, a grounder to his left and he made the play perfectly.

Why put Harper at third base? Girardi said, “I think it’s important the guys have fun. I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, ‘You look good there.'”

Despite the solid showing, don’t expect Harper to show up at third base in a meaningful game anytime soon. That being said, the Phillies’ second and third base situations are still not cemented. Jean Segura will likely open the season at the hot corner with Scott Kingery at second, but things could change between now and Opening Day in 10 days.

Harper, 27, is coming off a solid first season with the Phillies. He hit .260/.372/.510 with 36 doubles, 35 home runs, 114 RBI, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases across 682 plate appearances. Per FanGraphs, Harper’s 4.6 Wins Above Replacement ranked 16th in the National League. For some people, those numbers weren’t nearly good enough, so the expectations remain high as Harper enters year two of his 13-year, $330 million contract.