Verlander, Gray and Giolito all in question for opening day after injuries hit starting pitchers

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes throws the pitch that resulted in a solo home run by Tampa Bay Rays Amed Rosario in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game in Port Charlotte, Fla., Monday, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes throws the pitch that resulted in a solo home run by Tampa Bay Rays Amed Rosario in the fourth inning of a spring training baseball game in Port Charlotte, Fla., Monday, March 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The news hit one after the other on Tuesday: Three big-name starting pitchers all dealing with injuries that could cause them to miss the beginning of the regular season — and potentially more.

Houston’s Justin Verlander, St. Louis’ Sonny Gray and Boston’s Lucas Giolito are all ailing at spring training.

Verlander will start the season on the injured list after being slowed by inflammation in his pitching shoulder during the offseason. Gray has a hamstring strain sustained Monday. And Giolito reported discomfort in his pitching elbow following last week’s start in which he was roughed up.

“We’re obviously concerned. Not a good day for us,” Boston manager Alex Cora told reporters in Florida.

Verlander is the biggest name of the three, although his situation appears to be more of a delay than a long-term concern. Astros manager Joe Espada said Tuesday the 41-year-old Verlander hasn’t suffered any setbacks or soreness following bullpen sessions but needs more time to become game ready.

The three-time Cy Young Award winner is expected to throw in the bullpen again on Friday but has yet to face hitters. A delay to the start of the season could jeopardize his conditional $35 million option for 2025.

Giolito will have additional exams to determine the severity of his injury, but there’s worry it could be a long-term issue.

Giolito signed a $38.5 million, two-year deal with the Red Sox this offseason. The 29-year-old right-hander is coming off a 2023 season in which he gave up 41 home runs and had a 4.88 ERA for the White Sox, Angels and Guardians.

Gray may be the one of the three that has a chance to make it back for opening day, which he was slated to start against the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 28.

Gray left his start Monday against Washington after 20 pitches. The Cardinals initially said Gray had tightness in his hamstring, and an MRI revealed the strain.

Following their poorest season since 1995, the Cardinals gave Gray a $75 million, three-year contract in November to anchor a revamped rotation. Because the strain is mild, all parties are holding out hope Gray can make it back by the opener.

“If it’s in the cards for me to still do that, then obviously I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen,” Gray said Tuesday.

It’s not only important right-handers who might not be ready for opening day. Miami lefty Braxton Garrett is behind schedule after dealing with shoulder discomfort early in camp. Manager Skip Schumaker said Tuesday the delay in Garrett’s throwing program will make it tough for him to be built up by opening day. Garrett was 9-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 30 starts last season.

OHTANI VS. ANGELS

Shohei Ohtani faced the Los Angeles Angels for the first time in an exhibition, striking out twice and flying out as the Los Angeles Dodgers lost 4-0 to the two-way star’s former club.

The two-time AL MVP had reached base in his seven previous plate appearances before he struck out swinging against Chase Silseth in the first inning. Ohtani took a called third strike against minor league left-hander Tyler Thomas in the third, then flied to center versus right-hander Guillermo Zuñiga in the fifth.

Ohtani is 5 for 10 with a triple, homer and five RBIs in his first spring training after agreeing to a record $700 million, 10-year contract.

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes was scratched because of a stiff back. Max Muncy exited after he was hit by a pitch on his right knee in the sixth.

SPRING DEBUT

AL Championship Series MVP Adolis García appears set for his first Cactus League game this spring training with the Texas Rangers on Wednesday. All-Star third baseman Josh Jung is also getting closer to his first game, though there is still uncertainty about World Series MVP Corey Seager.

After taking swings in intrasquad games over several days, García had four at-bats in a B game on Tuesday. He hit a sharp single on the first pitch he saw from Kansas City’s Jordan Lyles.

Seager had sports hernia surgery Jan. 30, and the Rangers said then they expected the shortstop to miss most of spring training. Manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday that he was hopeful Seager, who had the flu last week, would have a chance to play in Arizona.

“I don’t know for sure,” Bochy said. “It’s going to be close whether he will get in some action here or not.”

García set an MLB postseason record with 22 RBIs last fall and homered in five consecutive games. He missed the last two World Series games with an oblique issue after being out 10 games late in the regular season because of a patellar tendon strain in his right knee.

He took about a month off after the season before resuming workouts, and the Rangers have been cautions with him this spring.

Jung strained his left calf at the start of camp nearly three weeks ago. He took live BP on Monday, and was getting multiple at-bats in a minor league game Tuesday.

SKENES TO START IN MINORS

The Pittsburgh Pirates are taking their time with top pitching prospect Paul Skenes.

General manager Ben Cherington said the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft will begin the season in the minors.

Cherington said there are still boxes the Pirates want Skenes to check before calling him up. Skenes pitched just 6 2/3 innings in the minors last summer after being selected by Pittsburgh. The 21-year-old has been impressive in two Grapefruit League appearances, allowing one run on three hits and three strikeouts so far this spring training.

Skenes will remain in major league camp for the foreseeable future to give him more exposure to Pittsburgh’s big league staff.

GOOD NEWS FOR ATLANTA

National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. is expected to be ready for opening day with the Atlanta Braves after a more thorough examination of his sore right knee found no serious issues.

Acuña left the Braves’ spring training site in Florida to be examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Monday night.

The team announced Tuesday that ElAttrache found only irritation in the meniscus of the outfielder’s right knee. Acuña will be able to gradually increase his baseball activities and is expected to be cleared to play by the time the Braves open the regular season at Philadelphia on March 28.

MILLER TIME

Infielder/outfielder Brad Miller agreed to a minor league contract with San Diego. The 34-year-old hit .214 with one homer and six RBIs in 67 plate appearances last year with World Series champion Texas in a season that ended Aug. 1 because of a strained left hamstring.

TREVINO GETTING CLOSER

Yankees catcher Jose Trevino says he will start playing in games soon after being sidelined by a calf injury that occurred a couple of weeks before the start of spring training.

“Super excited,” Trevino said.

The 31-year-old Trevino is also coming back from a tear in his right wrist that limited him to 55 games last season. He last played on July 17.

Trevino had been playing with the wrist injury last season before he was shut down. He was unsure of when he got hurt other than he started feeling pain during spring training.

Trevino made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove in 2022 when he hit .248 with a career-high 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 115 games after being acquired from Texas late in spring training.

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AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins, AP Sports Writers Will Graves and Dave Skretta and AP freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.

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