May 25, 2024

Astros’ Justin Verlander delivers in season debut, retires first 7 batters in win vs. Nationals

WASHINGTON — The Astros have certainly missed Justin Verlander.

The 41-year-old, whose mere presence is a big boost for a struggling Houston team, went six innings and allowed two runs in his season debut Friday night against the Washington Nationals. The 5-3 victory marked Verlander’s 258th career win.

Verlander, who was slowed this spring with right shoulder inflammation, retired the first seven batters he faced before Riley Adams’ double and Ildemaro Vargas’ single scored Washington’s first run. Working on a shorter leash than normal — manager Joe Espada said Verlander wouldn’t go past the 80-85 range — Verlander was economical.

He needed just 38 pitches to get through the first three innings and took the mound to start the sixth at 64. The three-time Cy Young Award winner struck out four, didn’t issue a walk and also gave up a two-out solo fifth-inning homer to Adams.

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“It’s huge,” Espada said of getting Verlander, a future Hall of Famer, back. “Just for the morale of the club and his leadership in getting on the mound and competing…and what he has meant to this team for so many years.”

Houston entered the day with a starting rotation ERA over 5, one of the worst in baseball and a persistent problem plaguing a team that went 6-14 in its first 20 games.

Even with Verlander’s return, Houston still has four starting pitchers on the IL. Two of them — Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. — aren’t expected to return until at least the All-Star break.

Espada said before Friday’s game that starter Framber Valdez played catch and he could get on a mound in the next day or two, which would give the team a better idea of a potential return date.

Verlander worked four innings Saturday for Double-A Corpus Christi in his final Minor League rehab start. He’s in the second season of a two-year, $86.7 million contract he signed with the New York Mets after the 2022 season. The deal has a $35 million vesting option for the 2025 season that triggers if he throws 140 innings this year.

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(Photo: Geoff Burke / USA Today)