Verlander: 'Hard to forecast' return to game action

February 25th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It’s still too soon to tell whether Astros ace will be ready to pitch on Opening Day. Verlander reported to camp a couple of weeks behind schedule because of a shoulder issue that popped up just before the start of Spring Training.

Verlander is throwing in the bullpen every three days and is progressing well, but he said Sunday that he’s being prudent in his build-up and isn’t sure yet when he’ll face hitters for the first time.

“I’m bouncing back pretty good,” he said. “Everything is kind of going the way I would like. I’m trying to stay out of my own way a little bit, and I try not to overdo things and really listen to the trainers and the guys that are there to pull the reins a little bit. I’m trying to listen to them.”

Verlander isn’t looking more than a week ahead, which makes it impossible to say whether he’ll be ready to pitch at the start of the regular season. For that to happen, Verlander would likely have to face hitters on the back fields soon so he can get into a few Grapefruit League games.

“We’ve still got some time,” he said. “Obviously, it’s tight, but things are progressing. It’s kind of like the same as I’m doing with my rehab right now -- day by day. We’re not even looking a week out or two weeks out, and it’s hard to forecast anything past that.”

As far as his shoulder goes, Verlander said it’s not completely loose, which he says is normal for a build-up. Each time he’s been on the mound, he’s made progress. He has started throwing sliders on flat ground, so he’s prepared to face hitters, whenever that happens.

“I started spinning some on flat ground a few days ago, so now I kind of need to in case I started getting in games soon or start facing batters,” he said. “Obviously, I want to be able to throw [the slider], because I don’t have time to say, ‘I’m going to start messing with it in games.’”

Now batting second…Yordan Alvarez?
Astros manager Joe Espada is considering batting slugger Yordan Alvarez in the No. 2 spot in his lineup, behind leadoff hitter Jose Altuve and ahead of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. Alvarez batted mostly third last year, with Bregman (101 starts) and Jeremy Peña (44) getting most of the ABs in the second spot.

“I’m going to give that a look and see how it works out,” Espada said.

Peña had some success in the No. 2 hole last year, but Espada believes the bottom of the lineup is what’s best for him. More than anything, he wants to find Peña a stable spot in the lineup, so he can come to the ballpark knowing where he’s going to hit.

“I see Altuve, Alvarez being that once-two punch in your face right out of the gate,” he said. “[Bregman] provides that on-base threat. He’s so good with people on base, so having him potentially sandwiched between Altuve and Tucker, that’s a good weapon, that’s a good strength for us. You guys will see me move that stuff and see how it goes.”

Smooth sailing for Brown in spring debut
While Verlander and J.P. France are still working their way back from shoulder issues and Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have been throwing on the back fields, Hunter Brown was the first full-time member of the 2023 Astros rotation to make his Grapefruit League debut.

Brown gave up two hits and struck out two batters in two innings in the Astros’ 3-0 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches. He pounded the strike zone, throwing 22 of his 31 pitches for strikes.

“It’s good to go out here and get back into it,” he said. “I felt good with my stuff. Yeah. I filled it up. I think I threw at least one strike with all my pitches. I executed some good fastballs, cutters, sliders, curveballs. I felt good about it.”

Brown was 6-4 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in his first 15 starts of the season, including four starts in which he pitched seven innings and didn’t allow an earned run. Opposing hitters had a .672 OPS against him in that span. But in his final 16 appearances (14 starts) in the regular season, he was 5-9 with a 5.95 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, with opposing hitters posting a .920 OPS. Brown admitted his mechanics wavered later in the year because of fatigue.

“All his pitches were in the zone,” Espada said. “He had command and poise, and I liked the tempo of which he worked. He had some slide steps in the second inning out there and that’s been something he’s worked on to try to keep runners checked. He pitched really well.”