Just-in Time: Verlander debuts for ailing Astros in Washington

By Thomson Reuters Apr 18, 2024 | 11:47 AM

Justin Verlander’s season debut comes at a great time for the Houston Astros.

The veteran right-hander takes the ball for the first time this season when the Astros visit the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

This is the start of the Astros’ six-game road trip. Houston has managed to score only seven runs across its last 29 innings.

It’s the start of the 2024 season for Verlander, 41, who was held back to begin spring straining because of a strained shoulder.

The Nationals will be playing their first game since going 5-4 on a nine-game road trip. That concluded with Wednesday’s 2-0 decision against the Los Angeles Dodgers, marking the first shutout of 2024 for Washington.

“They’re fighters. They’re playing with a lot of passion. Getting a win, going back to the East Coast, is awesome,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “We came out to the West Coast, it’s never easy.”

Verlander spent the start of the season at Triple-A to build up arm strength and stamina.

“It’s exciting to have him back,” Astros manager Joe 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.”

Verlander had been one of Houston’s five starting pitchers on the injured list. Espada didn’t provide a specific pitch count for the three-time Cy Young Award winner, but don’t expect him to go too deep into the game.

“We’ve got to be cautious of how hard we push him,” Espada said.

Verlander, who holds a career 257-141 record, made 27 stars last year — 16 for the New York Mets and 11 for Houston. He was 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA.

To gear up for Friday’s assignment, Verlander threw four innings Saturday for Double-A Corpus Christi on a rehabilitation gig. Prior to that, he pitched for Triple-A Sugar Land.

Verlander has four career starts against the Nationals. He’s 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA, recording 27 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings.

He’s opposed by Nationals left-hander MacKenzie Gore (2-0, 2.81 ERA), who has won his last two starts. That included five shutout innings Saturday at Oakland. Gore has worked at least five innings in all three starts this season.

Gore, in his only previous appearance against the Astros, had a no-decision in 5 2/3 shutout innings last June at Houston.

Martinez posted the 400th victory of his big-league managerial career Wednesday.

Now that the Nationals have gained confidence away from home, they’ll try to replicate some of that at Nationals Park.

“Hopefully, we can take this and keep building from it,” Washington reliever Hunter Harvey said.

In the last five games that the Nationals have won, the opponent failed to score more than three runs in all except one of those games.

The Astros need an uptick of offense from first baseman Jose Abreu, who’s batting .078 in 16 games this season without a home run and only one RBI. He has knocked in at least 75 runs in every season since 2014 (except for the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign).

Espada said there’s the belief that Abreu, who was lifted for an eighth-inning pinch hitter Wednesday, will get hot.

“History,” Espada said. “You know, the back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

–Field Level Media