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.”

MLB free agent watch: Shohei Ohtani leads possible 2023-24 class

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CHICAGO – The number will follow Shohei Ohtani until it is over. No, not Ohtani’s home runs or strikeouts or any of his magnificent numbers from the field. Nothing like that.

It’s all about how much. As in how much will his next contract be worth.

Ohtani is among several players going into their final seasons before they are eligible for free agency. There is still time for signatures and press conferences before opening day, but history shows a new contract becomes less likely once the real games begin.

There is no real precedent for placing a value on Ohtani’s remarkable skills, especially after baseball’s epic offseason spending spree. And that doesn’t factor in the potential business opportunities that go along with the majors’ only truly global star.

Ohtani hit .273 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs last season in his fifth year with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2021 AL MVP also went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA in 28 starts on the mound.

He prepared for this season by leading Japan to the World Baseball Classic championship, striking out fellow Angels star Mike Trout for the final out in a 3-2 victory over the United States in the final.

Ohtani, who turns 29 in July, could set multiple records with his next contract, likely in the neighborhood of a $45 million average annual value and quite possibly reaching $500 million in total.

If the Angels drop out of contention in the rough-and-tumble AL West, Ohtani likely becomes the top name on the trade market this summer. If the Angels are in the mix for the playoffs, the pressure builds on the team to get something done before possibly losing Ohtani in free agency for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick.

So yeah, definitely high stakes with Ohtani and the Angels.

Here is a closer look at five more players eligible for free agency after this season:


Nola, who turns 30 in June, went 11-13 with a 3.25 ERA in 32 starts for Philadelphia last year. He also had a career-best 235 strikeouts in 205 innings for the NL champions.

Nola was selected by the Phillies with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. There were extension talks during spring training, but it didn’t work out.

“We are very open-minded to trying to sign him at the end of the season,” President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll remain a Phillie for a long time.”


Chapman hit 36 homers and drove in 91 runs for Oakland in 2019. He hasn’t been able to duplicate that production, but the three-time Gold Glover finished with 27 homers and 76 RBIs in 155 games last year in his first season with Toronto.

Chapman turns 30 on April 28. Long one of the game’s top fielding third basemen, he is represented by Scott Boras, who generally takes his clients to free agency.


Hernández was acquired in a November trade with Toronto. He hit .267 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs in his final year with the Blue Jays. He was terrific in 2021, batting .296 with 32 homers, 116 RBIs and a .870 OPS.

The change of scenery could help the 30-year-old Hernández set himself up for a big payday. He is a .357 hitter with three homers and seven RBIs in 16 games at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.


The switch-hitting Happ is coming off perhaps his best big league season, setting career highs with a .271 batting average, 72 RBIs and 42 doubles in 158 games. He also won his first Gold Glove and made the NL All-Star team for the first time.

Chicago had struggled to re-sign its own players in recent years, but it agreed to a $35 million, three-year contract with infielder Nico Hoerner on Monday. The 28-year-old Happ, a first-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft, is on the executive subcommittee for the players’ union.


Urías, who turns 27 in August, likely will have plenty of suitors if he reaches free agency. He went 17-7 with an NL-low 2.16 ERA in 31 starts for the NL West champions in 2022, finishing third in NL Cy Young Award balloting. That’s after he went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in the previous season.

Urías also is a Boras client, but the Dodgers have one of the majors’ biggest payrolls. Los Angeles also could make a run at Ohtani, which could factor into its discussions with Urías’ camp.