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AL West update: Astros’ Justin Verlander, Rangers’ Corey Kluber out with injuries

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Tough news for two AL West starting rotations

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The Oakland A’s should be locked in a tight battle for the AL West division this season, with the quick 60 games unlikely to be long enough for anyone to set themselves too far apart in the standings. On Sunday, two of their top division foes took major hits to their starting rotations.

Justin Verlander, HOU

For the Houston Astros, defending Cy Young winner Justin Verlander has been shut down for a couple weeks with a forearm strain, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It felt “tender” while he was pitching in Friday’s Opening Day game, and he had an MRI on Saturday, adds Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle.

Amid rumors that Verlander would miss the rest of the season, the player himself took to Twitter to clear things up: “The report that I’m currently missing the rest of the season is not accurate. There is a forearm strain... I’m hopeful that with some rest it will heal and I’ll be able to return soon. Thank you for all the well wishes.”

The 37-year-old right-hander, who is still among the top pitchers in the sport as evidence by his second career Cy last year, tossed a six-inning quality start for a win in Friday’s season opener. The Astros have a ton of rotation depth to draw from so they should be able to come up with a strong emergency answer, but of course there’s no fully replacing the literal best starter in the league.

Corey Kluber, TEX

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers saw their own two-time Cy Young winner leave his start early on Sunday. Corey Kluber exited after just 18 pitches due to “tightness in the back of his right shoulder” and will be evaluated on Monday, reports team comms VP John Blake.

This is an especially discouraging development for Kluber after he was limited to just seven starts in 2019 due to a variety of injuries. For what it’s worth, the shoulder was not one of his problems last year.

The Rangers entered the season with a rotation that looked like the team’s biggest strength, and indeed there are still several quality arms even without Kluber. But with his elite track record, and still just age 34, it was fair to hope the right-hander might bounce back into another star performer like Lance Lynn and Mike Minor did in Arlington before him.

It’s not yet clear how long Verlander or Kluber might miss, and for all we know they could be back within a couple weeks. But that would still be a big deal — normally a quick stint on the injured list would just be a bump in the road, but in this short season a fortnight is nearly a quarter of the whole campaign. Neither team was counting on these veterans to singularly carry their staffs, but they’re still major losses.

It’s always a bummer to see players get hurt, whether stars or the last man on the bench, and that’s especially not how you want your team to get a leg up in a playoff race. Hopefully these two stars can get back on the mound soon so the A’s can beat them straight-up.

Related: The A’s have also taken an early loss in their own rotation, with highly touted prospect A.J. Puk out at least the first couple weeks of the season with a shoulder strain.

Kluber Update (Monday)

Here’s Levi Weaver of The Athletic with an update on Kluber, from Monday afternoon:

Corey Kluber has a grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle. Will get a PRP injection, and will not throw for four weeks, then re-evaluate.

No surgery expected. If all goes well, could be back for end of season, but would be a reliever, since no time to build up as a starter.

Hopefully we’ll see Kluber back in action before the end of 2020.