Justin Verlander is likely to make his season debut for the Astros this weekend at Washington

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws to an Arizona Diamondbacks batter during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

HOUSTON — Astros ace Justin Verlander will throw a side session Tuesday, and if that goes well he’ll make his season debut this weekend against the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Monday, but wouldn’t say which game of the series Verlander would start. The three-game set begins Friday night.

“He’s in a good spot,” Espada said. “He feels good. He feels confident. He wants to contribute. He knows that we need him on the mound, we need his presence and right now and he’s right where he needs to be.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Verlander spoke to reporters before Espada announced his plans for the 41-year-old, who deferred to the manager on questions regarding his return. But he did discuss his health.

“Pitch count-wise, I think it’s pretty close and health-wise I bounced back all the ways I would like to have seen,” he said. “Like we had talked about earlier kind of at length, some of the things that have been difficult for me to do are becoming easier and easier.”

“So I feel like I’ve kind of checked all the boxes that need to be checked,” he continued. “And I do feel like I’m ready to step on the mound again, whether that’s for us or somebody else. So that’s again, their decision.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land.

“You’re not quite in season form,” he said. “The only way to practice pitching at full speed is to actually go out there and do it. As much as I would like to, I can’t practice full speed in the bullpen. It’s just not possible. So you really hope that your body starts to sync things up when you’re out there in a game and you learn from each time you’re out there, and I think I’m doing just that.”

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