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Verlander can't find rhythm against Nationals

@alysonfooter
March 12, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Justin Verlander offered a small grin when he talked about the three home runs he allowed in the Astros' 5-3 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night. All three pitches were fastballs, hit by "guys I have no idea about," Verlander said. "I came back

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Justin Verlander offered a small grin when he talked about the three home runs he allowed in the Astros' 5-3 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night.

All three pitches were fastballs, hit by "guys I have no idea about," Verlander said. "I came back after the second one to the second baseman [Carter Kieboom] and was like, 'OK, I guess he was able to handle the heater a little bit.'"

Kieboom, ranked as the No. 25 prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline, connected for a two-run jack in the second inning, and a solo homer in the fourth.

Neither of those homers, or the third one, hit by pinch-hitter Taylor Gushue to lead off the fifth, was on Verlander's mind after his 73-pitch outing. He was more concerned with the ineffectiveness of his slider, which contributed to him feeling "out of sync" throughout the start.

"I felt strong there at the end," Verlander said. "I'm just trying to get my rhythm. Today was a bit out of whack, which can be kind of normal this time of spring. You start lengthening it out, you start working on some things here and there. Just nothing really synced up for me today. I have some work to do."

Most of his focus this spring has been on the changeup, which may have caused Verlander to temporarily avert his attention away from the slider. He was unsatisfied with that pitch in his prior outing, so he threw some extras in this start against the Nationals.

"Just wasn't there, really," Verlander said. "It's something I need to focus on before the end of Spring Training, starting now."

James throws BP

Pulled muscles and other types of aches and pains are standard for this time of year. Some players are lucky enough to recover from mid-camp injuries while the spring season is still going on, and that appears to be the case for pitcher Josh James, who threw a 15-minute batting practice session on Tuesday, with hopes this is the final step before returning to game action.

"It was little bit different, but it was a good kind of test for me," James said. "It went well, so I'm excited."

James sustained a right quad strain during a weightlifting session two weeks ago, knocking him out of the competition for one of the open spots in the rotation. But James is still in the mix for a bullpen role, and given he throws 100 mph and turned heads in a positive way during his debut season in 2018, he has a good chance to win a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster.

James threw 20-25 pitches to Houston hitters during his BP session and he reported no lingering effects from the quad strain. He'll go through some standard PFP (pitchers fielding practice) drills, and if he passes that test, he'll probably pitch in a game this weekend.

"It was nice to see him compete a little bit, sweat a little bit, and use all his pitches," manager AJ Hinch said. "He wasn't favoring anything, he wasn't being tentative. He was being aggressive, which is good."

Altuve improving

All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, recovering from soreness in his left side, completed running drills during practice on Tuesday and he could appear in a game on Friday or Saturday. Altuve has not appeared in a Grapefruit League game since March 6.

Hinch confirmed Altuve will likely resume baseball activities on Wednesday, as earlier planned.

Worth noting

• Former pitcher Shane Reynolds, a key member of the Astros' rotation through the 1990s, joined camp on Tuesday. Reynolds, who will be inducted into the inaugural Astros Hall of Fame class in August, is one of two former players currently in camp with the club. Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell joined the group a couple of days ago.

He said it

"Not everything I expected it to be. The guys are a lot nicer than I expected. They're a lot more open to discussion than I would have initially anticipated. I was really happy with the first experience. Everyone was really great to me and I'm thankful for that." -- Forrest Whitley, who was recently sent to Minor League camp, when asked if Major League camp was everything he expected it to be

Up next

Right-hander Gerrit Cole will square off against Mets righty Noah Syndergaard at 12:10 p.m. CT on Wednesday in a premier Grapefruit League pitching matchup in Port St. Lucie. Cole has not allowed a run over three spring outings, totaling six innings. He's yielded one hit, walked one and struck out six.

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.