The Houston Astros have been without their ace Justin Verlander for the beginning of the 2024 campaign after he suffered a shoulder injury before spring training. And although the veteran is nearing a return, he was shelled on Sunday.

Verlander made a rehab start in Triple-A but allowed a whopping six earned runs on seven hits in just over three innings of work, via The three-time Cy Young winner said after the outing that his mechanics felt off. He's expected to take the mound again in a week before the Astros determine what the next step will be.

“I did accomplish my No. 1 goal, which was to throw 65 pitches and feel healthy,” Verlander said. “In an ideal world, you go out there and the timing is right, and everything is where you want it to be, but it’s not super realistic. My timing was a little off, so my pitches were a little erratic. Time on the mound is the only thing that can help resolve that.”

Verlander key to Astros' success

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander (35) throws during the fifth inning of game five in the ALCS against the Texas Rangers for the 2023 MLB playoffs at Globe Life Field
Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros re-acquired Justin Verlander last year at the trade deadline from the New York Mets, not long after he decided to leave town following the team's World Series title in 2022. Verlander wasn't his dominant usual self in the second half, but the numbers were still respectable. The 41-year-old went 7-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 11 starts.

Injuries have been an issue for Verlander over the last two seasons. He opened 2023 on the IL and didn't debut with the Mets until early May, compiling a 3.15 ERA and 6-5 record in 16 outings. Verlander definitely showed well in the Big Apple but as we know, they decided to blow it up, ultimately moving the righty and his good buddy Max Scherzer.

So far in 24′, the Houston rotation is flourishing. They own a 2.22 ERA in 10 games, which ranks fourth in the Majors. Ronel Blanco threw a no-hitter last week before another stellar start on Sunday. Blanco, Cristian Javier, and Framber Valdez are leading the way at the moment.

That being said, there's no question that Verlander will spearhead the rotation once he's healthy. After all, we're talking about a future Hall of Famer who is still one of the nastiest pitchers in the sport. Despite the rough outing over the weekend, Justin Verlander did make it clear he feels healthy, which is a very positive sign. Via The Houston Chronicle:

“Physically, (I feel) great,” the 41-year-old right-hander said. “Obviously, not the best results, but I don’t think that’s the most important thing today. I came out of it the way I would have liked physically.”

Astros manager Joe Espada said he watched Verlander's start and the club will be monitoring how he responds:

“The stuff looked good, up to 95. Threw some really good sliders and some change-ups,” said Espada. “Hopefully, he feels good tomorrow. I think that’s the most important thing: how he bounces back.”

The Astros staff is doing well but the offense isn't, hence their disappointing 3-7 start. Houston faces the Texas Rangers on Monday.