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Verlander struts his stuff with 8 K's vs. Cards

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Halfway through this first Spring Training in an Astros uniform, right-hander Justin Verlander couldn't be progressing any better.

Verlander made his third Grapefruit League start in Friday's 4-2 win over the Cardinals, throwing five scoreless innings. He allowed two hits, one run on a homer to Paul DeJong, striking out eight and walking none of the first 11 batters he faced.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Halfway through this first Spring Training in an Astros uniform, right-hander Justin Verlander couldn't be progressing any better.

Verlander made his third Grapefruit League start in Friday's 4-2 win over the Cardinals, throwing five scoreless innings. He allowed two hits, one run on a homer to Paul DeJong, striking out eight and walking none of the first 11 batters he faced.

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In 10 innings this spring, Verlander has allowed four hits, one run and no walks to go with 17 strikeouts.

"It's just Spring Training so you don't want to take too much away from it," he said. "You just want to focus on what you're doing out there, and I felt good. The adjustments I'm trying to make are continuing to feel more comfortable, and I'm trying to stay in my rhythm and build a pitch count."

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Verlander, who will start on Opening Day against the Rangers on March 29 in Arlington, has three starts remaining in Grapefruit League play. He wants to build up to 90-95 pitches by the time he leaves Florida in order to be ready to throw 110 in the regular season.

"He looks really good, especially for him to get through five innings," manager A.J. Hinch said. "We had to extend him to get his pitch count up and he struck out a ton of guys. Really, really good performance by him, obviously, and his readiness is right on pace."

Video: STL@HOU: Hinch on Verlander, Tucker's go-ahead hit

Rondon throws bullpen
Veteran reliever Hector Rondon, who's appeared in only one Grapefruit League game this spring, threw in the bullpen on Friday afternoon with pitching coach Brent Strom watching closely.

The Astros insist Rondon, who gave up four runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning on Feb. 26, is healthy, though Hinch mentioned "fatigue" on Friday for the first time. The club signed Rondon to a two-year, $8.5 million deal in the offseason after he spent five seasons with the Cubs.

"He's been slow moving a little bit in trying to make sure we don't have any setbacks of any sort so any sort of delay in his throwing," Hinch said. "He's going to throw a bullpen today, which is the next step that he needs to get into games. Little fatigue here and there, little bit of general Spring Training hiccups here and there that come with more veteran players, and when that happens to veteran players, even being a little less interested in pushing him too fast."

Hinch said he's not worried about Rondon being ready to go when the regular season starts.

Biggio in camp
Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio is spending a few days in Astros camp in uniform as he does each season. Biggio, who retired in 2007 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in '15, is relishing in what he said are exciting times for the organization he's been a part of for 31 years.

"They're fun to be around," Biggio said. "They're good people, they're good guys. Obviously, after last year, what an incredible ride and what an incredible season, and what an incredible World Series. Everywhere I go, people bring it up and talk about it. And then you tell them we are good this year, also. It's a lot of fun to be in Houston right now."

Video: Biggio on his role as guest instructor at Astros camp

Biggio said the current Astros remind him of the late 1990s club in terms of athletic ability, talent and personalities. That team won four division titles in five years, but couldn't get past the first round of the playoffs. Houston didn't win a playoff series until 2004.

"It's a lot of fun to be around it from all those aspects," he said. "It's really enjoyable to come down here now. They're young men in the prime of their careers and it's been fun to watch them evolve from young men when they got here to the players that they are now."

Biggio is traveling across the state to Dunedin, Fla., on Monday to watch his youngest son, Cavan, who played in Class A Advanced Dunedin in the Blue Jays' organization last year and hit .233 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs.

"He looks good," Biggio said. "Cross our fingers."

Quotable
"It's good to watch him hit. He can really hit and came up with the big swing tonight."
Hinch on outfield prospect Kyle Tucker, who had a three-run triple in the win over the Cardinals. He's hitting .407 with four homers, 13 RBIs and a 1.392 OPS this spring.

Video: STL@HOU: Tucker triples to center, drives in three

Odds and ends
Hinch met with Strom on Friday to discuss contingency plans in case camp gets rained out on Sunday. Lance McCullers Jr. is scheduled to start against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., with Joe Smith and Chris Devenski pitching in relief. Charlie Morton and Collin McHugh are scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Sunday in West Palm Beach, while Verlander and Brad Peacock are scheduled to throw side sessions. Considering the Astros are going to the White House on Monday and won't work out, losing two days of mound time would create havoc for the pitching staff.

Injury update
First baseman Yuli Gurriel (hand surgery) is out until mid-April.

Up next
Listen to the live action with Gameday Audio as left-hander Dallas Keuchel makes his second spring start at 12:05 p.m. CT on Saturday when the Astros host the Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Keuchel will start the second game of the regular season on March 30.

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

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr., Dallas Keuchel, Hector Rondon, Justin Verlander