Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander to start season on injured list

Pitcher Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros baseball team stands in a circle of light as he poses for a photographer during the team's media day, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will open the season on the injured list after dealing with right shoulder inflammation during the offseason, which could jeopardize his conditional $35 million option for 2025.

Astros manager Joe Espada said Tuesday the 41-year-old Verlander hasn't suffered any setbacks but needs more time to become game ready.

“He’s doing very well, but we’re just running out of days here, and we won’t be able to build him up enough to start the season,” Espada told reporters. “It’s just a timing issue. We want to do what’s best for J.V. and our club, and this is what’s best for us right now.”

Verlander hasn't experienced any soreness in his shoulder after bullpen sessions, the manager said. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is expected to throw in the bullpen again on Friday but has yet to face hitters.

“We want to make sure to do it smart and not fast," Espada said. "We need him for the long haul. It’s a long season, and we need a healthy J.V. throughout the season.”

Verlander is expected to return early in the season. He called the injury “a little hiccup’’ in February but said he will be “really cautious on how I’m building up.’’

Verlander signed an $86.67 million, two-year deal with the New York Mets ahead of the 2023 season, then was traded back to Houston on Aug. 2. He helped the Astros win their sixth AL West crown in seven seasons before they lost to Texas in the AL Championship Series.

His deal includes a $35 million conditional player option for 2025 that he can exercise if he has 140 more innings pitched this year and does not have a specified injury that would prevent him from being on the 2025 opening day active roster.

If Verlander exercises his 2025 option, the Mets would send the Astros another $17.5 million in addition to the $35,520,753 they agreed to send Houston at the time of the trade: $4,211,469 last year and $31,309,284 this year. That reduced Verlander’s cost to Houston to $9,999,800 in 2023 and $12,024,049 in 2024.