Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) is called out of the game in the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in West Palm Beach , in Florida. Receiver Martin Maldonado and manager Dusty Baker Jr. are at right. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)


Eager to get back to where he was, Justin Verlander says he still needs to improve.

The Houston ace was retired after another scoreless outing, retired after 2 innings 2-3 on Wednesday when he hit a team-imposed pitch limit.

“I felt good physically,” Verlander said. “That’s the important thing.”

Verlander missed all of last year, including the Astros’ run to the World Series. The two-time Cy Young Award winner had Tommy John surgery shortly after kicking off in July 2020 on his first start of the pandemic-shortened season.

Facing a St. Louis roster representative of what it might look like on Opening Day — save for the absence of catcher Yadier Molina — Verlander allowed three hits, walked one and removed two. He threw 31 of 51 pitches for strikes.

This follows his standout debut last Friday, also against the Cardinals, when the 39-year-old right-hander pitched two no-hitter innings, walking one while striking out two.

While Verlander was overall happy with the speed and movement on his throws, they didn’t always go where he intended.

“It’s just being able to run it a little more consistently where I’m trying to throw it,” Verlander said.

Verlander entered the afternoon with a pitch target of 50. With two outs and a runner-first in the third inning, Paul Goldschmidt fielded a right-hand single.

Astros manager Dusty Baker quickly got out of the dugout and called for a reliever.

“He’s snappy,” Baker said, “I’m sure he’ll get snappier too. He had a good break point today.

Baker said Verlander pushed for another hitter, but the manager chose to stick with the plan.

“When you look at the bigger picture, it was 100% the right call,” Verlander said. “Of course when I’m competing I don’t want to go out, but I think it was the right decision.”

Verlander expects to achieve this consistency as he releases. But with the lockout-induced condensation of spring training, Verlander is running out of time to meet those expectations before the Astros’ regular season opener on April 7 at the Los Angeles Angels.

He’ll likely only have two more starts in the Grapefruit League before the Astros’ camp break, hitting about 80 pitches.

“That’s the hardest thing in spring training – a shortened spring,” Verlander said. “After two years of not pitching, it would be nice to have a little more trail to go out and have a few rounds under your belt to get the feel of it.”


More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports