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Dusty Baker names Justin Verlander opening day starter against Seattle

Astros open July 24 at Minute Maid Park

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, right, talks with Michael Brantley (23) after throwing during a simulated baseball game Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, right, talks with Michael Brantley (23) after throwing during a simulated baseball game Thursday, July 9, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – It’s official but in reality, the Astros opening day starter role was never in doubt.

Manager Dusty Baker announced after Wednesday’s practice that 2019 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander will get the nod when the Astros open the season July 24 at Minute Maid Park against the Seattle Mariners. Baker has been impressed with the way Verlander has put himself in a position to continue to dominate.

“That’s what the great guys do. They try to find a way to maintain. You look at guys like Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Tom Brady in football. You find a way (to) re-create yourself but not make wholesale changes. At this pace, I see him pitching well into his 40′s. He is throwing the ball great, mechanics look good, he’s fluid and is in a great frame of mind and his body is much younger than his age,” said Baker.

Baker also addressed the Astros rotation after Verlander, indicating that right now Lance McCullers Jr. is ahead of Zack Greinke and perhaps could start Game 2 against the Mariners. Greinke is slated to pitch in an intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday at Minute Maid Park.

McCullers Jr., fresh off five shutout innings on Tuesday in a scrimmage, could get the start July 25.

In other roster news, Baker told the media on his post-practice Zoom call that he and the club are moving forward, assuming they will be without reliever Joe Smith. Smith has not reported to camp after indicating concerns about his family tied to coronavirus.