For many teams, it’s easy to choose a starting pitcher for Opening Day because there’s often an obvious choice on the roster. The Houston Astros aren’t in that position, though, because they have three starters on the team who have pitched on Opening Day in the past, with two of those three also having earned Cy Young awards in their careers. During an interview on the broadcast of Monday’s spring-training game against the Miami Marlins, Astros manager A.J. Hinch revealed who will start the team’s first two games of the regular season.
Justin Verlander will get the nod for his first Opening Day with the Astros on March 29, when the defending World Series champions open their season at the Texas Rangers. This will be Verlander’s 10th career Opening Day start; he earned the honor with the Detroit Tigers each season since 2008, save for 2015. Acquired by the Astros on August 31, Verlander went 5-0 in five regular-season starts with the team after the trade, posting a 1.06 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 34 innings. He then went 4-1 in the postseason with a 2.21 ERA and was named MVP of the American League Championship Series. Verlander has been impressive this spring, recording nine strikeouts over 5.0 scoreless innings in two starts.
During the interview, Hinch also revealed that Dallas Keuchel will start the Astros’ second game on March 30. He has taken the mound to start the season for the Astros each of the last three years. Keuchel dealt with injuries last season that limited him to 23 starts, but he pitched well when he was able to go. He finished the regular season with a 2.90 ERA and struck out 125 batters in 145.2 innings. Keuchel made his spring-training debut on Monday, allowing two earned runs on four hits in 1.2 innings. He had three strikeouts in an otherwise unremarkable effort.
Hinch did not announce who would pitch beyond the team’s second game, but Gerrit Cole is expected to get the next start. The Astros acquired him in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason. Cole was last year’s Opening Day starter for Pittsburgh. If Cole gets the third game as expected, Lance McCullers would follow him for the final game of the opening series against the Rangers. The fifth spot in the rotation is currently up for grabs, with Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock, and Collin McHugh the candidates to fill the role.