In what could certainly be described as a best-case scenario, Justin Verlander twirled five hitless innings in his return from the 15-day injured list to pace the Houston Astros to a 5-0 victory over the visiting Oakland Athletics on Friday.
The Astros (95-50) reinstated Verlander from the IL just in time for him to potentially make a few more starts prior to the postseason. Verlander had been sidelined with a right calf injury since Aug. 28, but he showed few signs of rust while recording nine strikeouts and issuing one walk.
“That was great by Justin,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “To have not been out there almost three weeks or 16 days, he was pretty sharp. He was real sharp with his slider and his fastball, he wasn’t sharp with his curveball but that’s to be expected.”
Verlander threw 79 pitches in what was a blemish-free return to action.
“I could tell there was a little rust but that was to be expected and was probably less than I anticipated,” Verlander said. “All in all, it was a good day.”
Right-hander Jose Urquidy (13-6, 3.75) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Saturday.
Urquidy surrendered a season-high-tying six earned runs on 10 hits and one walk over five innings in a 6-1 home loss to the Los Angeles Angels last Saturday.
After winning three consecutive decisions over a five-start stretch, Urquidy is a 1-2 over his last three outings.
Urquidy is 1-3 with a 3.89 ERA over seven career starts against the Athletics, including a 1-1 mark and 3.77 ERA in two outings this season.
Left-hander Cole Irvin (8-11, 3.78) is the scheduled starter for Oakland (52-93) on Saturday. It will mark a team-leading 27th start for Irvin, who is 2-2 with a 6.50 ERA over his last six starts after going 4-3 with a 1.88 ERA over the previous seven.
Irvin allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts over seven innings in a 10-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
He is 2-5 with a 4.91 ERA over nine career starts against the Astros, including a 2-2 record and 3.23 ERA over five starts this season.
With Lance McCullers Jr. and Verlander having already delivered dominating performances and Framber Valdez, who has recorded 24 consecutive quality starts, on tap to start in the series finale on Sunday, Oakland starters must resist the temptation to attempt besting their mound counterpart for the remainder of this four-game series.
“It could be something that the guys think about, who they’re matched up against, but I really think they’re focused on the offensive side of the Astros lineup and how they have to manage the game in terms of that lineup,” Oakland manager Mark Kotsay said. “And give us a chance to win a baseball game by keeping the score close or maintaining a lead for us if that’s the case.”
–Field Level Media