Young pitcher on mend could help Astros absorb Verlander injury at start of 2024

With Justin Verlander out, the Astros need someone to take his spot in the rotation.

Houston Astros starting pitcher J.P. France (68) works out
Houston Astros starting pitcher J.P. France (68) works out / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Verlander will not be on the Houston Astros Opening Day roster. Manager Joe Espada made that announcement earlier this week after saying the three-time Cy Young Award-winner would not have enough time to ramp up ahead of the 2024 season after battling a shoulder issue this spring.

That injury isn't expected to keep Verlander out for long, but the Astros will need to find a suitable substitute with their All-Star pitcher missing the start of the upcoming season.

Thankfully, the Astros received a bit of good news on the injury front following Wednesday's workout. J.P. France, who himself hasn't pitched in a spring game this year, threw a live batting practice for the first time and is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Astros pitcher J.P. France could help Astros absorb Justin Verlander injury

The Astros have eight or more capable starting pitchers on the 40-man roster. The problem is that injuries have crippled the team's pitching staff this spring. Entering camp, Espada and the coaching staff knew they'd be without Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. as both are recovering from surgery and aren't expected back until later in the season. But Verlander was supposed to be the Astros Opening Day starter.

With Houston's ace out of the equation, Opening Day duties will likely fall to Framber Valdez. He'll be joined by Christian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urqiudy. And with France now on the mend, it appears that the Astros starting rotation to begin the 2024 season is now set.

The Astros are going to need France to get up to speed rather quickly with Houston opening the 2024 season on March 28 against the New York Yankees. Furthermore, Houston has 20 games in 21 days to begin their 2024 campaign. The schedule makers did the Astros no favors, and it wouldn't come as a shock to see Houston break camp with six starting pitchers on the Opening Day roster.

For now, Astros fans will take the good with the bad. While Verlander may not start the season on the active roster, his injury is not thought to be serious, and the 41-year-old could be back rather soon. Even better is the fact that France was back on the mound and is likely to toe the rubber in a Grapefruit League game in the near future. France logged over 130 innings for the Astros in 2023, and they're going to need more of the same from the right-hander in 2024.