Justin Verlander's short-rest gamble: Inside the Houston Astros' bet on their ace pitcher

Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander discusses how he plans to handle his short rest ahead of the game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

HOUSTON – The Houston Astros are betting on ace pitcher Justin Verlander's endurance as he faces the Tampa Bay Rays on a short three days of rest, but how could all of that play out thinking of Verlander's history in this situation?

It's only happened once in the postseason: Verlander started in the 2011 ALDS on fewer than the standard four days of rest. He played one inning due to rain, the Associated Press noted

MLB.com went further into Verlander's history, explaining the Astros superstar has also pitched on short rest in 2017 when the Astros were up against the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS. The game was tied at 2 and Verlander relieved Charlie Morton. Verlander pitched allowed a run on one hit and two walks. The team eventually won the game 6-5.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch is showing his confidence in his pitcher. 


"He's one of the best pitchers in the world," Hinch said Monday. "No more complicated than that. He's ready, and it's his game."

The move toward a shorter rest will allow the Astros to use Verlander twice in the next series, instead of once if he were held to pitch a possible Game 5 against the Rays on Thursday.

Why is Justin Verlander pitching on three-days short rest?

Why not just pitch someone else and save him for Game 5 after his normal four-day rest period?

The answer is based on mathematics and the future.

The future meaning the Astros are looking towards the next opponent which would be against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. That is a best four-games-out-of-seven series.

Of course the Astros have to win their current five-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.  So why Verlander, since he is only getting three days rest instead of his normal four?  The Astros lead the best-of-five series two games to one. They want to win as quickly as possible to give the team more rest before the Saturday series begins against the Yankees. Plus, they don't have a powerful fourth starting pitcher. 

Here is where the math kicks in.  If Verlander pitches on three days' rest tonight and wins, that means the Astros first game in the ALCS will be Saturday. Verlander would not be the starter as he would have only three days' rest. So the Astros would flip the rotation and give Gerrit Cole the first game pitching duties with Verlander talking Game 2. That way Verlander gets his normal four days of rest.

Why pitching Verlander now is really important

If the Astros did hold him to pitch a possible game five on Thursday against the Rays, that means he would not pitch for another four days. The ALCS series starts on Saturday with Game 2 on Sunday. Verlander would not be available until game three at the earliest. That's fine, but the Astros need him to pitch in either Game 1 or Game 2. Why? Because it's the only way he could be able to pitch twice on four days' rest if the series goes to seven games.  If he is starting in Game 3, Verlander won't be able to pitch in game 7 on four days' rest (he would have to pitch on short three days' rest).

Now if the Astros lose tonight, Cole will pitch Thursday. That scenario is not optimal for the Astros because Verlander and Cole will not be ready to pitch until both have had their four days of rest. That means Zack Greinke is your likely Game 1 opener with Verlander taking the Game 2 slot with normal rest and Cole taking game three. Again, in this scenario, Cole will only pitch once unless he returns for Game 7 on short three days' notice.

Of course, whenever you get to a Game 7, all bets are off and the Astros will do what it take to win meaning just about everybody will be available to pitch even on short notice.

For more on Verlander's thoughts on his short rest, watch our full video in the player above.

What do you think of Verlander's chances as he faces the postseason challenge – and Hinch's confidence in him? Let us know how you think the Astros will fare against the Rays in the comments below.

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.