Justin Verlander is now Major League Baseball’s active strikeout king.
The 39-year-old ace for the Houston Astros struck out a season-high 12 batters in seven innings in a 4-1 win over the Mariners on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park, giving him 3,086 strikeouts for his career.
The impressive outing moved him past his former Tigers teammate Max Scherzer for the active strikeouts lead among pitchers. He also passed his childhood idol John Smoltz, who he admired while growing up in Richmond, Virginia watching the Braves.
“I don’t know if Scherzer counts in that because he’s still playing and I’m still playing, and we’re kind of ping-ponging each other, but Smoltzy is somebody who I idolized growing up,” Verlander told MLB.com “Pretty surreal moment to hear that name.”
“It’s nice when it’s brought to your attention while it’s happening,” Verlander continued. “It’s not like you’re counting them down or anything. You’re keeping your head down and keeping doing the work and trying to be the best pitcher you can for as long as you can.”
Scherzer, for what it’s worth, has 3,079 career strikeouts and once healthy the two former Tigers will likely continue to pass the active leader title back and forth. Scherzer is out until early July though, so JV will extend his lead this month.
Verlander became the 33rd pitcher in MLB history to reach 2,500 strikeouts in 2018 and the 18th all time to hit 3,000 Ks in 2019. In typical workhorse form, he threw a season-high 108 pitches on Tuesday and got nine of his 18 swings and misses on his slider.
Next up for Verlander? Former Cleveland and Yankees ace CC Sabathia, who sits at 3093 career strikeouts. He could also catch Curt Schilling, Bob Gibson, Pedro Martinez and Fergie Jenkins and be on the cusp of the top 10 by the time the 2022 season ends.
Nolan Ryan is MLB’s all-time leader in strikeouts, raking up an absurd 5,714 Ks during his 27-year career.
Verlander is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 11 starts this season for the first-place Astros.