Astros’ Verlander sidelined by back injury

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander is expected to miss opening day after he strained a back muscle during a spring training start against the New York Mets.

Verlander said it would “probably take a miracle” for him to pitch in the Astros’ opener against the Los Angeles Angels on March 26. But he quickly added: “I don’t want to leave miracles off the table.”

The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner was hurt on his second-to-last pitch in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Mets. He had an MRI on Monday and was diagnosed with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. There is no timetable for his return.

“Talking with doctors and looking at the scans, it’s definitely not worst-case scenario,” Verlander said, “Best-case scenario would be nothing. It’s just probably somewhere in the middle of that.”

The 37-year-old right-hander’s velocity was down from his previous start, and he was removed after two scoreless innings of what had been scheduled as a four-inning outing.

“Hardly noticed it to be honest,” Verlander said of the injury-inducing pitch. “It didn’t quite feel right, just felt maybe I was a little off mechanically or something — kind of one of those spring things. Then in between innings it started to tighten up a bit.”

Zack Greinke likely will be the only one of Houston’s top three starters last season to open this year on the active roster. He allowed one run in four innings against Detroit on Monday.

No. 2 starter Gerrit Cole left as a free agent and signed with the New York Yankees. This year’s projected No. 3 starter, Lance McCullers Jr., is recovering from Tommy John surgery in November 2018.

Elsewhere around the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues:


Phillies ace Aaron Nola was scratched and sent home with what manager Joe Girardi said was the flu. He remains on track to start on opening day.

Bryce Harper hit his third double for Philadelphia, and Mikie Mahtook and Christian Bethancourt homered.

Yankees starter J.A. Happ struck out five while working four innings of one-run ball. Aroldis Chapman worked an inning, walking one and striking out one. Clint Frazier doubled.


Tampa Bay left-hander Blake Snell got just one out in his return to the mound after experiencing elbow soreness in his spring debut. He walked four and was charged with four runs, but he said afterward his arm felt great.

Danny Jansen hit a grand slam for Toronto, and Riley Adams added a three-run shot. Hyun-Jin Ryu tossed 4 1/3 scoreless innings.


Madison Bumgarner threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings for the Diamondbacks, allowing three hits and a walk. Kole Calhoun and Trayce Thompson homered.

Mike Montgomery worked four innings for the Royals, giving up two runs and four hits. Greg Holland followed Montgomery with a scoreless frame, striking out one.

Ryan O’Hearn, Kevin Gutierrez and Kyle Isbel went deep for Kansas City.


Franmil Reyes homered twice for a Cleveland split-squad, belting a three-run drive in the third inning and a solo shot in the fifth. Yu Chang also connected, and Logan Allen allowed two earned runs and two hits in two innings in his second spring start.

Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney was charged with four runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings. Justin Upton homered for Los Angeles, and Mike Trout walked twice and scored a run.


Atlanta right-hander Felix Hernandez struck out six while working five innings of one-run ball. The 33-year-old Hernandez allowed six hits and walked two.

Touki Toussaint finished for the Braves, allowing one hit and striking out three.

Ryan Weber tossed four scoreless innings for Boston. Jose Peraza had two hits.


Cincinnati right-hander Anthony DeSclafani pitched four innings of one-run ball, lowering his spring ERA to 1.50. Nick Senzel led off the game with his first spring homer.

Yasmani Grandal homered and doubled for Chicago. Yermin Mercedes hit a tying solo drive off Cody Reed with two out in the ninth, strengthening his case to make the White Sox as a third catcher.

White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease permitted three runs and walked three in three innings.


Indians right-hander Aaron Civale struck out six in three innings. He allowed one run on Alex Dickerson’s homer in the second.

Trevor Oaks worked three scoreless innings for the Giants, giving up two hits and striking out three.


Chris Taylor, Terrance Gore, Edwin Rios and Anthony Garcia each drove in three runs for Los Angeles. Alex Wood struck out four in 3 1/3 innings, and Tony Gonsolin worked 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

Padres right-hander Garrett Richards allowed an unearned run in 3 1/3 innings. Josh Naylor tripled and Trent Grisham doubled.


Carlos Correa singled and doubled for Houston. Austin Pruitt closed with three scoreless innings, striking out three.

Tarik Skubal, a lefty prospect for Detroit, permitted one run and four hits in 2 2/3 innings.


Austin Dean helped his chances for making St. Louis’ opening-day roster, hitting a solo homer and a double. Kwang-Hyun Kim struck out four in three innings, and Daniel Ponce de Leon pitched five innings of two-hit ball in relief.

Twins starter Randy Dobnak continues to tinker with his erratic slider. He allowed two runs and three hits over four innings.


Toronto left-hander Anthony Kay struck out four in three scoreless innings. Kay was selected by the New York Mets in the first round of the 2016 draft and traded to the Blue Jays in the Marcus Stroman deal.

Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams also worked three scoreless innings. Kevin Newman had two of the Pirates’ five hits.


New York’s Walker Lockett pitched three scoreless innings in his first spring start. Corey Oswalt worked four innings of relief, allowing an unearned run and striking out five.

Elieser Hernandez tossed four scoreless innings for Miami, striking out five.

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