Justin Verlander pitches 3 innings in spring debut for Mets

Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

JUPITER, Fla. — Justin Verlander threw both as a National Leaguer and with a pitch clock for the first time in his career. He said he wished the NL part would have happened earlier.

“When guys like me were still hitting,” he joked.

No telling how high his strikeout total could’ve swelled past its current 3,198 total.

Verlander’s first experience with the timer went reasonably well, as did his pitching in general, as the 40-year-old New York Mets newcomer made his spring debut.

Coming off his third Cy Young Award, and a World Series championship with Houston, he threw only seven balls out of 35 pitches while allowing one run in three innings, striking out three in a 15-4 win over the Miami Marlins.

“The pitch clock was something I wanted to get used to,” he said. “There might be a couple of little adjustments I need to make there. There’s just maybe one or two things but not major, so that’s good.

“The first part of the inning is something I want to speed up just a tick. Specifically, I kind of walk around the back of the mound. I almost walk in between the pitcher’s mound and second base. If I just stay closer to the mound and just clean up the time it takes to walk – the two or three seconds – by the time I get on the mound and get the sign, I’ll feel completely comfortable with how much time I have left,” he said. “I really never want to throw a pitch without conviction behind it. I don’t want to just throw something because we ran out of time.”

Save for a misplay in the Mets outfield in the first, Verlander would have had a scoreless outing. He walked none and gave up two hits.

“My control felt pretty good,” he said. “I don’t want to be too nit-picky at this time of year. First time in competition, you’ve got to allow your body to get used to moving fast again. For a first start, it checked all the boxes I would like.

“The eye test was pretty good. The second thing is to look at some of the metrics of it. To be able to walk away and say, ’OK, one, I came out of it healthy and, two, my stuff was pretty good, the location was pretty good and the off-speed was pretty good. . . I think those all were big positives,” he said.

A big leaguer since 2006, Verlander is experimenting with a changeup for the first time.

“The first one felt great,” he said. “I loved the swing and miss. The second (the batter) hit right back at me, so I didn’t like that. But he didn’t hit that hard.”

Verlander is 244-133 in his career with Detroit and Houston and has nearly $87 million more in his pocket after signing a two-year deal with the Mets. His $35 million team option becomes a player option for 2025 if he works at least 140 innings next year when he turns 41.

The right-hander said former Tigers teammate Max Scherzer was the only Mets player he really knew when he signed, and that made things a “bit nerve-racking. But new experiences, new challenges are what help you write fun new chapters in your life book.”

Verlander said he wished he could have gone to the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

“I declined for a lot of obvious reasons,” he said, “one them Tommy John surgery and last year being the first year back. And the (2022) World Series. I didn’t have time off.”

”Unfortunately, it just didn’t make much sense,” he said.

Verlander paused after one of his three innings to say hello to Ron Kulpa, the plate umpire. Kulpa called Verlander’s first of three no-hitters in Detroit on June 12, 2007. It was the first of Kulpa’s two no-hitters.

“The story about it is hanging in my office. I just looked up at it the other day,” said Kulpa, who lives in nearby Boca Raton, Florida now. “I can’t believe that was (Verlander).”

The difference in Verlander now, said Kulpa, is that he’s a smarter pitcher.

“He’s not as much a power pitcher,” Kulpa said. “He could pitch back then, but he’s just not throwing 99 or 100. Now it’s 96, 95.”

Mets manager Buck Showalter, referencing the couple of changeups, said, “Guys like (Verlander) are always searching for another look – just something else – that in advance meetings, guys have to prepare to defend.”

NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells visited Showalter before the game.

“Parcells shows up and we score two touchdowns,” cracked Showalter. “I’ll get a text from him tonight, asking me what time I want him here tomorrow.”

Rich Hill keeps Cardinals off balance into 7th, Pirates complete three-game sweep with 2-1 victory


PITTSBURGH – When he’s on, Rich Hill‘s pitches still dance. They still dart. They go this way. Then that way. They can baffle hitters with their movement, particularly the ones that don’t come close to breaking the speed limit on most interstates.

In a game that seems to get faster each year, Hill is a throwback. A survivor. At 43 and 19 years into a career he figured would have been over long ago, the well-traveled left-hander knows he’s essentially playing on borrowed time.

Hill is in Pittsburgh to show a young staff how to be a pro while occasionally showing the kids he can still bring it. That example was on display in a 2-1 victory over St. Louis on Sunday that gave Pittsburgh a three-game sweep of its longtime NL Central nemesis.

Knowing the bullpen needed a bit of a break, Hill (5-5) kept the Cardinals off balance for 6 2/3 innings, expertly weaving in and out of trouble with a series of curveballs that hover around 70 mph offset by a fastball that can touch 90 mph but plays up because everything else comes in so much softer.

Hill walked three and struck out six while giving up just one run, a seventh-inning homer by Andrew Knizner that drew the Cardinals within one. He allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in the first four innings and stranded them all as the Pirates pushed their winning streak to five.

“He threw the pitches he wanted to throw,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “They didn’t swing at them. The fact that he’s able to just bounce back and continue to execute shows how savvy he is as a veteran.”

Ji Hwan Bae‘s two-run single off Miles Mikolas (4-2) in the first provided all the offense Hill would need as Pittsburgh swept St. Louis for the first time in five years. Ke'Bryan Hayes singled three times and is hitting .562 (9 for 16) over his last four games after a 3-for-32 funk dropped him to seventh in the batting order.

David Bednar worked the ninth for his 13th save and third in as many days, striking out Knizner with a 98 mph fastball that provided an exclamation point to three days of tight, meaningful baseball, the kind the Pirates haven’t played much of for the better part of a decade.

“We know we have a very good team,” Hill said. “We’ve had meetings in here and we talk about it and reinforce it and just continue to go out there and give that effort every single night and understand that (if) we continue to put in the work, it’ll start to show every night on the field.”

Tommy Edman had two hits for the Cardinals, and designated hitter Luken Baker picked up the first two hits of his career after being called up from Triple-A Memphis early Sunday.

The middle of the St. Louis lineup – Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman and Nolan Arenado – went a combined 0 for 11 as St. Louis lost for the fifth time in six games. The Cardinals left 27 men on base at PNC Park over the weekend to fall back into last place in one of the weakest divisions in the majors.

It’s a division the Pirates – coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons – are managing to hang around the top of for a solid two months. The bullpen has evolved into a strength, with Bednar at the back end and a series of flashy hard throwers like Dauri Moreta in the middle.

Moreta came on for Hill with two outs in the seventh and struck out Goldschmidt with the tying run at first while Hill was in the dugout accepting high-fives, already thinking about his next start, likely on Saturday against the New York Mets. It’s a mindset that has kept Hill around for far longer than he ever imagined.

“Every time he picks up a baseball, I know he feels blessed to be able to continue to throw baseballs for a living,” Pirates catcher Austin Hedges said. “I think that’s one of the best things he can teach our young guys.”


Cardinals: Continue a six-game road trip in Texas against the Rangers on Monday. Adam Wainwright (2-1, 6.15 ERA) faces Martín Pérez (6-1, 4.43 ERA) in the opener.

Pirates: A season-long nine-game homestand continues on Monday when lowly Oakland visits. Johan Oviedo (3-4, 4.50 ERA) gets the start against JP Sears (0-3, 4.37 ERA).