Astros Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros have gotten off to a sluggish start in their first season under manager Joe Espada.

Entering Wednesday, Houston sits at 6-14 and the second-worst record in the AL behind the hapless Chicago White Sox.

Help is on the way for the Astros, however.

Espada told the Associated Press Wednesday that three-time Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander will be making his 2024 debut Friday night against the Washington Nationals. The 41-year-old pitcher started the season on the injured list with shoulder inflammation but made a pair of rehab starts and everything is set for his return to the big league club.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young winner on the mound,” Espada said. “It’s (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

Verlander originally joined the Astros in 2017 after being traded from the Detroit Tigers, where he spent his first 12 seasons. After winning a Cy Young and the AL MVP while with Detroit, he won two more with Houston along with the 2017 and 2022 World Series championships. He departed Houston after 2022 and signed with the New York Mets, but was traded back to Houston at the 2023 trade deadline as the Mets went from being heavy favorites entering the season to sellers at the deadline.

Espada didn’t clarify how long Verlander, MLB’s active innings pitched leader, would be in the game Friday, but stressed the importance of easing him back in.

“We’ve got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we’ve got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

[Associated Press]