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Verlander earns 11th career Opening Day nod

Assignment ties Astros ace for 10th all time in season-opening starts
@brianmctaggart
March 8, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It was certainly not surprising to anyone that Astros manager AJ Hinch called Justin Verlander into his office Friday to inform him he would start on Opening Day for the 11th time in his career, but that didn’t diminish the impact of the moment on

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It was certainly not surprising to anyone that Astros manager AJ Hinch called Justin Verlander into his office Friday to inform him he would start on Opening Day for the 11th time in his career, but that didn’t diminish the impact of the moment on the ace pitcher.

“Most of us were probably aware I would most likely be starting Opening Day, but he does a good job of putting things in perspective,” Verlander said. “When he called me into the office, he was like, ‘Congratulations, this is your 11th. Think about that.’ It’s really cool to have him relay the importance of certain things to make you appreciate it more.”

Verlander, 36, will start the Astros’ opener March 28 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field against Blake Snell, who edged Verlander by 15 votes last year to win his first American League Cy Young Award. The top two Cy Young finishers in the National League -- winner Jacob deGrom of the Mets and runner-up Max Scherzer of the Nationals -- will also face each other on Opening Day, something that has happened only twice previously (both in 1979) since the Cy Young was introduced in 1967.

“It should be a great matchup,” Verlander said of his showdown with Snell. “I don’t think you get, too often, No. 1 and No. 2 going at each other on Opening Day.”

Gerrit Cole will start the second game of the season for the Astros against Rays pitcher Charlie Morton, who spent the previous two seasons with the Astros and was on the mound when Houston clinched the World Series in 2017.

The Astros have yet to name the rest of their rotation, with Collin McHugh and Wade Miley likely pitching in either the third or fourth games of the year. Tyler Glasnow will start the third game of the season for the Rays, who will use an opener in the fourth game.

Verlander will make his 11th career Opening Day start, tying him with Felix Hernandez, Fergie Jenkins, Dennis Martinez and CC Sabathia for the 10th-most opener starts in history. The all-time record holder is Hall of Famer Tom Seaver with 16, while Jack Morris and Walter Johnson are tied for the record for American League Opening Day starts with 14 each.

“This will be J.V.’s 11th Opening Day start, which needs to be recognized,” Hinch said. “In some ways, there’s an assumption he was going to be the starter. I don’t think it’s as obvious as people necessarily think given how Gerrit Cole can anchor a staff as well, but I do want to congratulate him and I’m proud to write his name in pitcher’s spot on Opening Day.”

Verlander also started Houston’s opener last season against the Rangers, twirling six shutout innings while striking out five and allowing four hits and two walks in a 4-1 Astros victory. The former American League Cy Young Award winner and league MVP owns a 3-1 record with a 4.03 ERA across his 11 Opening Day starts with Houston and Detroit.

“It’s pretty special, man,” he said. “It’s over a decade of being out there in Game 1, which is something I always relish. I always try to go back and remember my first Opening Day and kind of the culmination of all your work to get to that point and how special that was for me.

“You don’t get to experience it much when you’re starting. You’re just part of the energy but you don’t get to sit back and enjoy it. Later in your career or when you’re done, those Opening Days are the ones you remember. Those are part of special moments in baseball you always dream about it.”

Verlander finished second in the AL Cy Young race for a record-tying third time last year. Snell finished with 17 first-place votes, 11 second-place votes and two third-place votes for a total of 169 points in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Verlander had 13 first-place votes, 13 second-place votes, three third-place votes and one fourth-place vote, finishing with 154 points.

Last year, Verlander had one of the best seasons of his career, going 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA and a career-high 290 strikeouts in 214 innings pitched -- one behind AL leader Corey Kluber (215). Verlander led all Major League pitchers with a 0.90 WHIP, which is the third-lowest for an AL starter in the last 50 seasons (minimum 175 innings).

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.