Justin Verlander still achieves top goal of Astros rehab start despite being rocked

Baby steps.
Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander
Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages

The Houston Astros sent their ace to the hill on Sunday. No, not Ronel Blanco, though the right-hander is certainly making a name for himself after a no-hitter and a six-inning shutout attached to his résumé.

But while Blanco was blanking the Texas Rangers, Justin Verlander appeared in a rehab start for Triple-A Sugar Land on Sunday. Verlander took the hill for the Space Cowboys and was rocked by the opposition. The former Cy Young Award-winner went just three innings and allowed six runs on seven hits including a home run.

Verlander, however, was happy with his outing and said that he achieved his No. 1 goal. After the game, Verlander said, "I did accomplish my No. 1 goal, which was to throw 65 pitches and feel healthy." That's an important first step, and Astros fans know that the results will follow.

Astros' Justin Verlander still achieves top goal of rehab start despite being rocked

Verlander mowed down the competition during the first inning. The righty induced a fly out of the Las Vegas Aviators' leadoff hitter before recording back-to-back strikeouts. Astros fans were probably ready to pick up the phone for Dana Brown after watching the first inning go so smoothly. Verlander looked ready to go.

But the second inning did not yield the same results. Verlander struck out the first batter he faced, and then allowed six straight hits, including five that went for extra bases. After the Space Cowboys took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, Verlander's struggles led to 5-1 deficit heading into the second. Verlander did get back-to-back Ks to end the inning, but the damage was done.

A 1-2-3 inning in the third ended Verlander's first rehab start of the season. He's expected to go again later this week. There's a chance that his second outing for Sugar Land will be his final tuneup before returning to the Astros rotation, but it all depends on how Verlander responds to the gradually increasing workload.

The 'Stros are keeping his spot warm. Blanco's early-season performance may have, in fact, pushed one of Hunter Brown or J.P. France out of the starting rotation once Verlander returns. Houston is eager to get their ace back, and Sunday's rehab start got him one step closer.

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