Justin Verlander still has major hurdle to leap before Astros return

It remains to be seen if Justin Verlander will be ready to toe the rubber in time for Opening Day.

Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Justin Verlander, Houston Astros / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

Justin Verlander isn't a kid anymore. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer is 41 years old and is a year-to-year proposition at this point in his illustrious career. After being traded back over from the New York Mets, the Houston Astros starter help the Junior Circuit powerhouse get back to the ALCS. However, wear and tear on his right arm has resulted in a slow start out of the gate for Verlander.

At this point, he has yet to pitch in an exhibition game this spring for Houston. This is due to on-going right shoulder issues. Clearly, with a player like Verlander, you want to take your time as opposed to forcing him out there. However, he is still a few bullpen sessions away from even getting to an exhibition start. The biggest thing Verlander has to sort out is being able to throw the curveball well.

Astros pitching coach Josh Miller provided an update on where Verlander is at physically right now.

“We need to see him throw some breaking balls, and that will be the next step. We’ll see how he responds and go from there."

Opening Day is one month out, as the Astros will host the New York Yankees in Houston on March 28.

Justin Verlander must have control of his breaking balls before returning to Astros

His combination of velocity, competitiveness and off-speed offerings all contributed to Verlander being a lock for Cooperstown several years ago. However, we could be seeing the final season of his illustrious career if he is a shell of the pitcher he once was. There is no shame in it. Verlander has been a dominant pitcher with two American League clubs of note in Houston and the Detroit Tigers.

If I were Miller and the rest of the Astros coaching staff, I would want Verlander to be peaking when it matters most. The first half of the season is inconsequential to me, as the Astros should once again be a top-four team in the American League. They have been a mainstay in the ALCS for years now, simply because they are better than just about everyone in the Junior Circuit. That is not changing.

Overall, I would put Houston up with any of the best teams in the American League this season. In-state rival Texas just won its first World Series in franchise history. While the AL Central seems to be in a state of flux, odds are one of the two Texas teams will face wither the Baltimore Orioles or the New York Yankees in the ALDS or ALCS this October. Will Verlander be able to go out on top in 2024?

The last thing we want to see as baseball fans is for Verlander to not have his full arsenal available.

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