As ace pitcher Justin Verlander gets set to face hitters, possibly in the next few days, Astros manager Dusty Baker said Sunday getting the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner back for the final week of the regular season and the playoffs would be like a big trade acquisition heading into October.
Baker said Verlander, who was shut down after one start with a right forearm strain, threw 55-60 pitches off the mound Saturday and will progress to facing live hitters soon.
“That’s a very, very positive sign,” Baker said. “He’s been working his butt off. He’s trying everything he can to get back to help us.”
Baker said Verlander is being built up to be a starter. The Astros’ plan has Verlander making one start in the final week of the regular season before the playoffs.
“As of right now it is,” Baker said. “If things go well, there’s no better starter around than him. It’s like making a major trade again getting him back. We’re knocking on wood and keeping our fingers crossed that everything goes well and there are no setbacks because we really don’t have the time for it.”
Verlander threw six strong innings July 24 against the Mariners to begin the season but suffered a forearm strain and was shut down. Last year, he had one of the best seasons in his career, making 34 starts while going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings.
McCullers to return Wednesday
Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who was placed on the injured list Sept. 6 with a neck nerve irritation, will return to the rotation and start Wednesday against the Rangers in Houston.
Last week, McCullers received a mild anti-inflammatory injection, which Baker said alleviated the irritation on the nerve in his neck. The return of McCullers to the Houston rotation bumps rookie Cristian Javier out for the time being. The Astros won’t need him to make a start until the final week of the season, when Verlander could also return after missing all but one start with a forearm strain.
McCullers, who had Tommy John surgery following the 2018 season, returned the mound on July 25 and threw six innings to beat the Mariners. He’s been up and down since, going 3-2 with a 5.79 ERA in eight starts overall. He’s 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in four starts at home and 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in four starts on the road.
McCullers last pitched Sept. 4 in Anaheim, where he failed to record an out for the first time in his career. He faced five hitters and gave up three runs on two hits and three weeks.
• Baker said utility infielder Aledmys Díaz was out of the lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the Dodgers after tweaking a quad muscle in his 2-for-4 performance Saturday. Also, first baseman Yuli Gurriel was held out of the lineup Sunday after Baker said he injured his left hand sliding into second base in Saturday’s win. The injuries to Díaz and Gurriel likely won’t require a stint on the injured list, Baker said.