Verlander makes spring debut as Mets take down Marlins

New York Mets starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws during the third inning of a spring...
New York Mets starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws during the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)(AP)
Published: Mar. 5, 2023 at 12:20 AM EST
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Justin Verlander threw both as a National Leaguer and with a pitch clock for the first time in his career Saturday. The New York Mets pitcher 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 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 at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.

"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."

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."

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."

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 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."

Associated Press 2023