The Houston Astros have been given somewhat of a reprieve in the pandemic-shortened season. Instead of facing relentless boos from opposing fans due to the bombshell offseason scandal that revealed how the Astros cheated in 2017, the team will play like the rest of MLB in empty stadiums.
What still remains to be seen is how the opposing teams will pitch to the Astros hitters. Before the season was delayed due to the pandemic, there was considerable speculation that opposing pitchers might deliver some type of retribution, more specifically, hitting batters with pitches. In an intrasquad scrimmage this weekend, Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander definitively answered the question.
Houston Astros cheating scandal and punishment
In January, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the Houston Astros were involved in sign-stealing and other cheating tactics during the 2017 World Series-winning season. Manfred suspended general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for one year, and the Astros were fined $5 million as well as losing their first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021.
Astros owner Jim Crane wasted no time and fired Luhnow and Hinch for their roles in the cheating scheme. MLB’s announcement had ripple effects on others who were part of the scandal but no longer with the Astros organization. The Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora, and the New York Mets ousted Carlos Beltran for their parts in the scheme.
Surprisingly, the Astros players escaped any punishment because of their cooperation with the league’s investigation. During the Houston Astros spring training “Apology Tour,” Crane raised a few eyebrows for multiple comments, including when he said the players didn’t deserve punishment.
“The players should not be punished for the failure of our leadership,” he said. “The leaders enabled, condoned and did not stop those actions that happened. … [The players] are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from their leaders.”
What other teams said about Houston Astros cheating
The scandal, coupled with disingenuous comments from Houston Astros players and Crane, didn’t sit well with players on other MLB teams, especially the pitchers, who were victimized by the cheating. Some went so far as to say there would be payback for the Astros’ actions.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a comfortable few at-bats for a lot of those boys, and it shouldn’t be,” Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger told the Washington Post. Clevinger’s Indians lost to the Astros in the 2018 postseason.
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling, whose squad lost to Houston in the 2017 World Series, agreed with Clevinger when asked if Astros hitters might deliberately be on the receiving end of “errant” pitches.
“I would lean towards yes,” Stripling said. “In the right time and the right place…yeah, it would be on my mind.”
Justin Verlander hits Carlos Correa
When the Houston Astros open the season on Friday hosting the Seattle Mariners, Justin Verlander will be in a familiar position taking the mound as the opening-day starter for the 12th time in his 15-year MLB career. It will be the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner‘s eighth consecutive opening-day start and third with the Astros.
In Verlander’s final tune-up on Sunday during an intrasquad scrimmage, the 36-year-old appeared to be in good form as he struck out seven, surrendered three hits and a run, and hit one batter. That last statistic stands out for obvious reasons.
During the game, Carlos Correa stood in the batter’s box when Verlander delivered a slider that slid right into the back of Correa’s leg. The hitter delicately turned away from the pitch in obvious discomfort. Because it was a scrimmage, Correa stayed at the plate where he eventually struck out a couple of pitches later.
It was interesting to see, arguably, the best pitcher in the game, with impeccable control, drill his Houston Astros teammate. While clearly not intentional, it did, however, serve as a painful reminder of what lies ahead. Some of the baseball season may have been erased due to the pandemic, but the memory of what happened this offseason has not been forgotten. That bitter taste of cheating is still very fresh, and someone has to pay.