Houston Astros ace right-hander Justin Verlander will be reinstated from the 15-day injured list and is scheduled to start the second game of a four-game home set against the Oakland Athletics on Friday.
Verlander (16-3, 1.84 ERA), a leading candidate for the American League Cy Young award, landed on the IL with an injured right calf on Aug. 28. He avoided damage to the muscle, which shortened the IL stint and enabled Verlander to return to the rotation in time to provide the Astros a few additional starts prior to the postseason. That qualifies as fortuitous timing.
“The better shape you’re in, the sooner you can come back,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was in great shape; he works hard and is strong mentally.”
Verlander leads the majors in ERA and WHIP (0.855) while pacing the AL in wins and winning percentage (.842). He sustained the injury defensively against the Baltimore Orioles and was able to resume throwing in short order, facilitating his relatively quick return.
The Astros have not set a pitch count for Verlander, who anticipates being able to throw more than 75 pitches while not exceeding 110. He last threw 100-plus pitches on Aug. 16 and has reached that plateau only once in his previous six starts, a clear nod to the Astros’ attempts to keep him fresh for an extended postseason run.
“The lines of communication have been very open between myself and Dusty and (Astros pitching coach Josh) Miller, the training staff and management — and this has been no different,” Verlander said of expectations entering his 25th start. “I didn’t have to stop throwing for very long, so that was a huge benefit. But it’s been two and a half weeks since I’ve been in a game, so there’s also that.”
Rookie right-hander Adrian Martinez (4-4, 5.59) is the scheduled starter for the Athletics on Friday. Recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas for his fourth stint with Oakland on Aug. 28, Martinez is 2-1 with a 4.80 ERA over three starts since.
He took the loss in his previous start against the Chicago White Sox on Sept. 10, having surrendered seven runs on 14 hits (a franchise record for fewer than four innings) and one walk with two strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings in a 10-2 defeat.
Martinez will make his first career appearance against the Astros.
The Athletics were emboldened by the performance Thursday of starter James Kaprielian, who allowed two runs over six innings in his first appearance since Aug. 31. Kaprielian was scheduled to start on Sept. 9, but he was scratched with a right middle finger laceration. He had been 0-4 with a 6.46 ERA over his last five starts, but he rebounded from those struggles and the injury in fine form.
“This was a great outing for him coming off the finger,” Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said following a 5-2 loss on Thursday. “For him to come out and give us six innings against this lineup … and see him finish that sixth inning (was good). It’s a tough inning to get through third time through that lineup, and he did a great job for us.”