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Verlander stoked to start season with Astros

Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Right-hander Justin Verlander was finally back in the Astros' clubhouse on Monday. And he was soaking up the atmosphere. Minute Maid Park brings back pleasant thoughts for Verlander, who was instrumental in the club's World Series championship in 2017 after being acquired in a late-season trade with the Tigers.

"It's pretty special to be back in the locker room, some great memories in here," Verlander said before Monday's 5-2 win over the Brewers in an exhibition game. "Little different, being here at the start of the season. Glad to be back in Houston."

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HOUSTON -- Right-hander Justin Verlander was finally back in the Astros' clubhouse on Monday. And he was soaking up the atmosphere. Minute Maid Park brings back pleasant thoughts for Verlander, who was instrumental in the club's World Series championship in 2017 after being acquired in a late-season trade with the Tigers.

"It's pretty special to be back in the locker room, some great memories in here," Verlander said before Monday's 5-2 win over the Brewers in an exhibition game. "Little different, being here at the start of the season. Glad to be back in Houston."

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Verlander has been tabbed for the Opening Day start against the Rangers on Thursday at Globe Life Park.

"Opening Day is so special," Verlander said. "It's something you always cherish. It's a full circle moment. Just being out there Game 1 of the season, everybody is so high on expectations and so excited about the upcoming season, the unknown, what's going to happen with their team. It's a unique atmosphere."

Verlander noticed in Spring Training that the Astros seem focused and don't appear to be resting on their laurels. Far from it.

"What I said to the team right before we broke camp, I was so impressed with how passionate these guys were, how hard they worked in Spring Training," Verlander said. "No complacency.

"Everybody is getting ready for the start of the season. Whether it's infield drills or a game, or World Series Game 7, it's fun to be a part of."

Verlander, who will oppose Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels on Thursday, came out of Spring Training healthy, and he progressively built up his arm strength and pitch count. Verlander is still tinkering with some pitches.

"They call it midseason form for a reason, we're not in midseason yet," Verlander said. "I'm still trying to get consistent."

Tucker greets with grand slam
Before Monday's exhibition game, manager AJ Hinch raved about outfielder Kyle Tucker, ranked as the club's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline. And that was before Tucker's seventh-inning grand slam.

Tucker didn't make the Opening Day roster, but Hinch said Tucker most likely would be a factor in the Major Leagues.

Video: MIL@HOU: Tucker slugs a grand slam to right field

"Kyle Tucker has a real good chance to impact this team this season. That's why he's here," Hinch said. "The sky is the limit for him. He can be really good at this level and he seems to rise to the level of competition around him."

After the game, Hinch said, "He's had a nice spring and a nice impression. The long view of him is he looks like he's going to be a really good player. His time will come."

The homer was Tucker's fifth this spring and the slam off Brewers reliever Josh Hader was Tucker's first at-bat at Minute Maid Park.

"It was awesome," said Tucker, who entered the game in the top of the seventh as a defensive replacement. "The atmosphere from the first inning, or even yesterday coming to the field was awesome. I was super pumped. To finally get to play on this field was awesome. It's a dream ever since you were a little kid. It was a great night."

Altuve likes Astros' chances
Jose Altuve, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, isn't taking anything for granted and isn't quite talking dynasty. But he likes what he's seen out of the club, days before the start of the regular season.

Video: Altuve on his new deal, club's improved roster

"I don't know if that's the right word to describe our team, but I think this is going to be a team that will do everything it can to win every single game," Altuve said.

"What I like most about this team is we showed up the first day of Spring Training talking about what we're going to do this year. We weren't talking about the [World Series] championship. That's a good sign. If you see around the locker room, we have a lot of talent. I like what I've seen from Spring Training. We're ready to win."

Gurriel ahead of schedule
Yuli Gurriel, recovering from left-hand surgery, is trending in the right direction and the Astros are hopeful the first baseman could play in a game in the next day or two.

"Yuli is inching [toward] some game action in [extended spring]," Hinch said.

Since Gurriel is ineligible for his first five games of the season due to a suspension, a transaction involving Gurriel has to be made by Opening Day. He will either go on the disabled list or start serving his suspension.

Gurriel, who is pain free after having a hook off the hamate bone removed, took batting practice again on Monday.

Fisher glad to be sticking around
Derek Fisher had a great moment in the World Series, scoring the winning run as a pinch-runner in the Game 5 win over the Dodgers.

After Saturday's moves, Hinch announced that Fisher and J.D. Davis both had made the club's Opening Day roster for the first time in their careers.

Video: Davis talks about making the Astros' roster

"This organization is full of so many good players, and to play next to them in the Minor Leagues and to compete against them, just makes you better," Fisher said. "That shows why this team is so good and the organization is as good as well.

"To be here for Game 1 is very special. Everyone on this team wishes everyone the best collectively. We find some time to have fun and find a lot of time to work hard. That's how it's been in Spring Training, that's what it's going to be the entire year."

Fisher beat out Tony Kemp for the final outfield spot. Fisher recently posted three consecutive multi-hit games and batted .292 overall in the spring. In the three-game surge, Fisher was 7-for-10 with three doubles and two RBIs.

Up next
Right-hander Charlie Morton will start at 1:10 p.m. CT on Tuesday as the Astros conclude the two-game exhibition set with the Brewers at Minute Maid Park.

"We're excited. We've played enough Spring Training games," Hinch said. "It's a nice break to come to a real stadium. Especially at home. The guys are getting a little bored of Spring Training."

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Derek Fisher, Yuli Gurriel, Charlie Morton, Kyle Tucker, Justin Verlander