The 2020 MLB season saw its first major injury Sunday, as Astros ace Justin Verlander might miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury, the Houston Chronicle reports. Manager Dusty Baker told reporters the injury is a forearm strain, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, however, so there is hope this may not be a season-ender.
Verlander made one start in the season opener against the Mariners on Friday, striking out seven with just three hits allowed in six innings, and it's not clear when, exactly, the injury happened. Verlander threw just 73 pitches in the outing and did see his velocity dip as he went on, but his last pitch was at 95.3 mph, so it wasn't like there were any glaring signs.
Still, this is obviously a big blow for the Astros and for Fantasy players, even if Verlander does get a positive update in two weeks. He would likely still need a few weeks to ramp back up even if that were the case, so even in a best-case scenario, Verlander is likely to miss half the season — in the best-case scenario. If that happens, you can hope Verlander will return and help your team down the stretch, but the nature of this shortened season means this will be a significant absence either way.
You'll need to stash Verlander until we find out more about the long-term prognosis, and that means you'll have to find a replacement somewhere, though there's obviously no replacing what you were hoping to get from the future Hall of Famer. The Astros seemingly had plenty of depth at starting pitcher at the start of camp, but with Jose Urquidy not with the team and Brad Peacock dealing with a shoulder issue, Framber Valdez was already being called on to step into the rotation. Now, they're another man down, which means they'll likely call on someone from the alternate site player pool to step in.
And that very well could be Forrest Whitley, the team's top pitching prospect. The organization's top prospect has already made it to Triple-A, albeit in a disaster of a 2019 that saw him sport a 7.99 ERA and 15.8% walk rate. By all accounts, the stuff was still there though, and he seemed to turn things around with six starts in the Arizona Fall League last season, so if the Astros give him a call, Whitley will be a must-add player.
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Of course, Whitley isn't the only option. Cristian Javier and Bryan Abreu have experience starting and are currently on the 30-man roster pitching out of the bullpen, while Brandon Bielak could get the call from the team's alternate site, and any one of them would be an interesting Fantasy flier if they got the call — though not on the level of Whitley.
Nor on the level of some of the pitchers not on the Astros roster you'll probably want to target instead. Here are eight to consider adding heading into Week 2 if you need a Verlander replacement:
MIA Miami • #22 • Age: 25
Alcantara now has a 2.67 ERA over his last 12 starts, but he might have looked better than ever Friday against the Phillies, as he struck out seven over 6.2 innings with two walks. Alcantara has always been incredibly hard to square up, but he was locating his pitches well and had 14 swinging strikes, including a whopping six with his changeup. If Alcantara's command has improved, he has tons of potential to be a true difference maker.
Brady Singer SP
KC Kansas City • #51 • Age: 24
Singer drew a tough matchup in Cleveland with his debut but kept them off balance all day with a steady diet of sliders and fastballs. He racked up an impressive 14 swinging strikes on 80 pitches, including 10 with the slider alone, but he'll probably need to rely on the changeup (just two in his debut) as hitters see more of him. Still an impressive debut like that deserves our attention.
Dylan Bundy SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #37 • Age: 28
Maybe a change of scenery was all Bundy needed. He de-emphasized his fastball and mowed through a tough A's lineup in his first outing. It's just one start, but Bundy has never been short on ability.
MIL Milwaukee • #39 • Age: 26
We saw more good than bad from Burnes in his debut, even if the command problems were still there. He's got a deep arsenal full of swing-and-miss stuff, and he's not far from stardom. He might be the most high-upside option here.
TOR Toronto • #48 • Age: 31
The Giants might have the worst lineup in baseball, so let's not get too excited. However, we've seen Stripling thrive as a starter before, and the fact he was allowed to throw 92 pitches in the first start means the Dodgers may let him throw whatever workload he can handle.
Steven Matz SP
TOR Toronto • Age: 29
We've seen outings like this from Matz before, but rarely with the kind of velocity he was bringing Saturday against the Braves. He averaged 94.9 mph with his sinker, a level he hasn't really pitched at since 2016. That makes Matz, a pitcher I've always liked, look even more interesting.
TOR Toronto • Age: 31
Chatwood is another pitcher who has never been short on stuff, so it's the two walks in six innings that stand out here. If he can avoid free passes at an even reasonable level, Chatwood could be a strong source of strikeouts and wins on this Cubs team.
DET Detroit • #56 • Age: 28
Turnbull wasn't someone who got a lot of hype coming into the season, but he's been on Fantasy radars before and should be on them yet again after striking out eight in five innings against a tough Reds lineup. This is more of a deep-league dart throw, but he was impressive enough to make it not entirely a blind throw.