HOUSTON — When the Houston Astros acquired right-hander Justin Verlander just prior to the waiver trade deadline, they did so with the anticipation that he would provide the club a chance to win every time he took the mound.
Two trips through the rotation, Verlander has done exactly that.
But on Sunday, Verlander (12-8, 3.58 ERA) will have an opportunity to win at Minute Maid Park for the first time as a member of the Astros (90-58), with his home debut set against the backdrop of a series finale against the Seattle Mariners and the Astros poised to celebrate winning the American League West pennant.
Houston’s magic number to win its first division championship since 2001 sits at one.
Verlander has won twice on the road with Houston, including a splendid performance against the Angels on Tuesday when he allowed one hit and one walk with nine strikeouts over eight shutout innings. Astros fans were delirious with delight when Verlander arrived at the ballpark Sept. 2 between games against the New York Mets. Now, they’ll watch him ply his trade.
“I know there’s a lot of anticipation for his first home start,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “When he got here there was so much emotion in the city to begin with because of the hurricane. We had the return (to Minute Maid Park) in the doubleheader when he arrived; they put him on the screen and everybody went crazy. I think there’s great appreciation for the organization for having gone out and got a bona fide ace. A real energy boost into this community, a very notable player in the big leagues.
“So when they get to see him for the first time in the home uniform and playing for the home city, I’m sure there will be a nice reception.”
Verlander is 11-8 with a 3.09 ERA over 23 career starts against the Mariners (74-75). He is 1-0 against them this season in three starts, allowing four earned runs in 18 2/3 innings with 26 strikeouts.
Rookie right-hander Andrew Moore (1-3, 5.36 ERA) will start the series finale for the Mariners. It will mark his second appearance against the Astros. He recorded a no-decision on Sept. 6 after allowing two runs on three hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings.
With right-hander Felix Hernandez and lefty James Paxton returning from the disabled list and rejoining the rotation, the Mariners cleared room for their arrival. Left-hander Ariel Miranda was the first candidate, working out of the bullpen for the first time this season in an 8-6 loss on Saturday. Miranda worked a scoreless sixth inning, recording one strikeout.
Miranda paces the Mariners in starts (29) and innings (159) this season.
“He’s had 5-6 days off, he felt really good and wanted to get back out there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’ll use him. Keep him fresh, keep him going. If we do need to start him we can, or we can bring him out of the bullpen.
“Wherever I’ll need him right now. So, with Felix and Paxton coming back into the rotation we’ve got some guys to take up those spots.”