Verlander making season debut tonight vs. Nats

April 19th, 2024

HOUSTON -- will make his long-awaited season debut for the Astros on Friday against the Nationals in Washington, manager Joe Espada announced on Wednesday. Verlander, who threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, worked four innings Saturday for Double-A Corpus Christi in his final Minor League rehab start.

“The first thing is health, and I came out of [Saturday's game] feeling good,” Verlander said. “Obviously, I have some stuff to work on pitching-wise, but that’s kind of what Spring Training is for and what rehab starts are for. I felt better last time than I did the [rehab start] before, so just keep building on that, and like I always do, kind of work on stuff in the bullpen in between and keep trying to make it click.”

The Astros have five starting pitchers on the injured list, so getting Verlander back will be the first step to making the rotation whole again. Verlander went 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 11 regular-season starts (68 innings) after the Mets traded him to Houston in July, and he also made three postseason starts before the Astros were eliminated by the Rangers in the American League Championship Series.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation and what it means to this club,” Espada said. “Just to get him back on track and get some innings from him, fill our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward, it’s exciting to have him back.”

Espada said Verlander won’t be on a specific pitch count, but the team will be careful with how hard they push him.

“I know he’s going to want to stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we’ve got to be cautious of how hard we push him early,” Espada said.

There was more good news for the Astros on Wednesday. Espada said lefty Framber Valdez, who’s been on the IL since April 9 with a sore elbow, could also return to the rotation during the team’s upcoming eight-game road trip.

“Things are moving well for Framber,” he said.

The Astros announced on March 5 that Verlander wouldn’t be ready for the start of the regular season and would begin the season on the injured list after a shoulder issue put him behind prior to the start of camp.

On April 7 at Triple-A Sugar Land, Verlander allowed seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and one walk in three-plus innings, throwing 65 pitches in his first rehab game.

Gauging his readiness to pitch in a big league game based on the results of a rehab start is difficult for a veteran pitcher like Verlander, whose No. 1 goal is to get his work in. Minor League hitters see it as a chance to measure themselves against one of the best pitchers of this generation.

“You know a lot of these guys are really aggressive,” he said. “It’s kind of notorious to get hit around a little bit when you go make rehab starts. I think you have to take a realistic view of things. I wasn’t as deceptive as I would like to be and that’s something you can kind of tell, I think. Really, [it's] the same thing you use Spring Training for.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner is entering the second season of a two-year deal he signed with the Mets during the 2022 offseason. The contract contains a $35 million vesting option for 2025 that is triggered if Verlander throws 140 innings this season. New York will pay half of the option if it vests.