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Justin Verlander Scheduled To Begin Rehab Assignment On Sunday

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Astros right-hander Justin Verlander began this year on the injured list but is nearing a return. Manager Joe Espada told members of the beat, including Chandler Rome of The Athletic, that Verlander will throw a bullpen tomorrow and is scheduled to make a rehab start for Triple-A Sugar Land on Sunday if the bullpen goes as planned. The club believes only two rehab starts will be necessary, lining the righty up to join the major league club in about two weeks.

Rotation health has been a key focus for the Astros for quite a while now. Both Luis Garcia Jr. and Lance McCullers Jr. underwent surgery last year and are still working towards getting healthy. In the spring, each of Verlander, José Urquidy and Shawn Dubin suffered injuries that prevented them from making the Opening Day roster. In Verlander’s case, some shoulder soreness slowed his ramp-up early in spring and put him a bit behind schedule.

That left the Astros with a rotation consisting of Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, JP France and Ronel Blanco. That group has been throwing well, with Blanco throwing a no-hitter on Monday, but the club is 1-5 regardless with the bullpen responsible for all five of those losses. France is currently on the paternity list but expected back with the team shortly.

The 41-year-old Verlander wasn’t quite able to replicated his 2022 Cy Young-winning form but had a strong season in 2023 nonetheless. After posting a 1.75 earned run average in 2022, that number jumped to 3.22 last year. Perhaps more concerning, his 27.8% strikeout rate fell to 21.5% while his walk rate dropped from 4.4% to 6.7%. Maintaining that excellent form was going to be a tough task, especially as Verlander pushes beyond his 40th birthday, but he managed to still post strong results.

When Verlander is back, the Astros may have to make a tricky call of who to bump out. Each of the five starters currently in the rotation has options, but Valdez and Javier are well established in the big leagues at this point. Brown has 180 innings on his major league track record now with a 4.50 ERA but better peripherals. He has struck out 26.9% of batters faced, walked 8.4% and kept 54.5% of balls in play on the ground. His 4.06 FIP and 3.65 SIERA suggest better results may be possible going forward. France has a 3.87 ERA in 142 major league innings while Blanco has a 4.14 ERA in just 67 1/3 frames but, as mentioned, he just threw a no-hitter a couple of days ago.

Verlander is in the final guaranteed year of the contract he signed with the Mets but he’ll have a $35MM player option for 2025 if he can throw 140 innings this year. As part of last year’s deadline trade, the Mets agreed to cover $35MM of Verlander’s 2023 and 2024 salaries as well as half of the player option if it vests.



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