Given his choice of a franchise stalwart who suffered through the worst of times, or a recent import who pushed the Houston Astros over the top to a championship, manager A.J. Hinch opted for the latter when choosing his opening-day starter.
Hinch said Monday on the Astros’ TV broadcast that he will hand the ball to Justin Verlander on March 29 as the club begins defense of its first World Series title, a decision – choosing among former Cy Young Award winners – that any manager would love to have.
Verlander, 35, won all five of his starts – and posted a 1.06 ERA – after his Aug. 31 acquisition from the Detroit Tigers. He was also the American League Championship Series MVP after giving up just one run in winning both ALCS starts.
He’ll get the nod over Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner who won 14 games and returned to All-Star status last season. Keuchel, 30, is eligible for free agency after this season and debuted in Houston in 2012, when the Astros lost a franchise-worst 106 games. They topped that with a 111-loss season in 2013.
Now, they are favored to return to the World Series thanks to enjoying the services of Verlander for a full season and the addition of right-hander Gerrit Cole, acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Keuchel sounded a disappointed but diplomatic tone regarding the decision, per MLB.com.
"The guy deserves it," Keuchel said. "He's one of the true unique talents in this game, and has a chance to have an HOF in front of his name. I wasn't happy by any means, but I'll gladly go Game 1 and try to replicate the success he's going to have."
Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young winner and MVP, has seven top 10 Cy Young finishes to his credit, and has won 188 games with 2,416 strikeouts. He’s under contract for the next two seasons at $28 million annually.