KAZ’S KORNER


The best 36-year-old major league pitcher made his fans, coaches and teammates very happy last weekend when Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander signed a two-year extension to his current 2019 contract making him the highest paid starting pitcher in major league history.

When Verlander and the Astros agreed on a two-year extension worth $66 million, the $33 million average annual base salary was the largest for a pitcher in major league history.

The new contract extension broke the record of Zack Greinke’s average annual base of $31.4 million and was the largest salary ever paid to an Astro in one season, assuring that Verlander will remain in Houston until he is 38 years old.

When the team left their West Palm Beach Florida spring training site for Houston Sunday afternoon, the announcement of Verlander’s deal was like a breath of fresh air for his Astros teammates.

“It was something that was important to me,” Verlander told the Houston Chronicle for Monday’s edition, “seeing the ripple effect of contracts and how it can affect other players.

“In my opinion, the ability to go short-term isn’t something that teams get too often. For that, I thought it was a very fair compensation,” Verlander pointed out.

The seven-time All-Star plans to pitch until age 45 and stated that this will not be his final contract, just a prolonging of his stay with what he termed “the best organization in baseball,” he told the Chronicle.

“These have been some of the most fond memories I’ve had in baseball, with you guys,” Verlander said directing his comments toward the group of teammates who left the clubhouse for his news conference.

“That support goes a long way, and that’s a major reason why I wanted this extension here, to continue to be a part of this, to continue this legacy in Houston,” he confessed.

Since coming to Houston when he was acquired at midnight two Augusts ago, Verlander posted a 2.32 earned run average.

He garnered American League Championship series MVP honors during the 2017 World Series run and last year he finished second in American League Cy Young voting, striking out 290 batters and producing a career-low 0.902 WHIP. He will be the Astros’ opening day pitcher tomorrow at Tampa Bay.

His signing capped a week in which three team members also had their contracts extended—Alex Bregman’s $100,000 and relief pitcher Ryan Pressly’s  $17.5 million deal. The Astros have doled out $183.5 million in guaranteed money with those three deals, according to the Chronicle’s article.

Houston’s 25-man roster that was announced Sunday wasn’t much different than what most followers of the team had anticipated at the start of spring training, with three players—pitchers Framber Valdez, Josh James and six-year veteran Tony Kemp—making an opening-day roster for the first time.

Due to some early days off in April, the Astros were able to carry an extra bench player and 12 pitchers. During most of the season they will carry 13 pitchers. Veteran Brad Peacock beat out Valdez for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation because he had a much better spring training.

Manager A.J. Hinch played his star infielders—Jose Altuve, Bregman and Carlos Correa–sparingly during the six-week training period as they recover from off-season procedures.

New faces on this year’s starting rosters include starting pitcher Wade Miley, rookie relievers Josh James and Valdez, catcher Robinson Chirinos, infielder Aledmys Diaz and outfielder Michael Brantley.

KWICKIES…Despite shooting a one-over par 72 on Sunday’s final-round PGA Tour Valspar Championship, Paul Casey became the first back-to-back winner in the 19 years of this tournament, defeating Jason Kokruk and Louis Oosthuizen by one stroke.

The Santa Anita race track plans to reopen for live racing Friday for the first time since it was shut down after the deaths of 22 horses. Racing has been suspended at the track since March 5 after 22 horses suffered fatal injuries since Dec. 26.

The Houston Rockets clinched an NBA playoff berth Sunday with their 113-90 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, advancing to the post-season for a seventh consecutive season to tie the franchise record.

JUST BETWEEN US…All of the No. 1 and No.2 seeds survived the first two rounds of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament last week and are included in the Sweet Sixteen field that begins tomorrow and concludes Sunday with the Final Four. But several teams weren’t as lucky during the first two rounds as a total of a dozen upsets were recorded, all but one in the opening round. Strangely enough, all the No. 9 seeds defeated the No. 8’s in the first round. In the second round, Duke escaped an upset when two last-ditch shots by Central Florida rolled around the rim and came out as time expired, giving the Blue Devils a hard-fought 77-76 victory and a berth in the Sweet 16. No. 2 Tennessee let a 25-point lead melt away before the Vols came back to nip Iowa 83-77. The second-seeded Texas Longhorns needed overtime to subdue a very physical Xavier team 78-76 in the second round of the NIT Tournament at the Erwin Center in Austin.