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.”