ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Justin Verlander outpitched Blake Snell in a rare opening-day matchup between a reigning Cy Young Award winner and runner-up, helping the Houston Astros begin the season Thursday with a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
George Springer homered on opening day for the third straight year. Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve also went deep for the Astros against Snell, the AL Cy Young recipient who won 21 games and led the American League in ERA in 2018.
Verlander allowed a leadoff homer to Austin Meadows before dominating a mostly young Tampa Bay lineup featuring just one player — center fielder Kevin Kiermaier — who started for the Rays on opening day last year.
The 36-year-old right-hander, fresh off signing a three-year contract that added $66 million in guaranteed money for 2020 and 2021, limited the Rays to one run and three hits over seven innings before a crowd of 25,025 at Tropicana Field — Tampa Bay’s 14th consecutive sellout for a home opener.
Verlander, who improved to 4-1 in 11 opening-day starts, struck out nine and only gave up one hit — Yandy Diaz’s seventh-inning double. He allowed three runners total after walking a batter and plunking another in the second.
Ryan Pressly pitched a scoreless eighth, and Roberto Osuna worked a perfect ninth inning to finish a four-hitter for the Astros, who after winning their first World Series in 2017 were knocked out by Boston in last year’s AL Championship Series.
Springer gave Astros ace all the offensive support he would need with a three-run homer in the third off Snell, who yielded five runs and six hits over six innings of his first opening day start.
The 26-year-old lefty, who signed a $50 million, five-year contract this month, walked two batters ahead of Springer’s home run and finished with three strikeouts.
With the NL Cy Young winner Jacob de Grom facing Washington’s Max Scherzer earlier Thursday, Snell vs. Verlander became the fourth instance of a reigning Cy Young recipient facing the runner-up for the award on opening day.
The other two matchups both occurred in 1979, when Ron Guidry (Yankees) faced runner-up Mike Caldwell (Brewers) and NL winner Gaylord Perry (Padres) faced Burt Hooton (Dodgers).
Astros: RHP’s Lance McCullers Jr. (right elbow surgery) and Joe Smith (left Achilles’ tendon surgery) were both placed on the 10-day injured list. Meanwhile, Correa said before the game that his injury is “nothing major” and that he hopes to be ready to play some time before the end of the four-game series.
“I’m hoping so,” Correa said. “Hopefully I’ll wake up (Friday) feeling a lot better when I swing.”
Rays: To finalize the opening day roster, 3B Matt Duffy (left hamstring tightness), LHP Anthony Banda (Tommy John surgery) and RHP Jose De Leon (Tommy John surgery) were placed on the 10-day injured list.
RHP Charlie Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA in 30 starts last season with Houston, will make his Tampa Bay debut Friday night against the Astros and RHP Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA in 2018). Signed to a $30 million, two-year contract as a free agent by the Rays, Morton won Game 7 in both the AL Championship Series and World Series in 2017. “It’s a group of guys I care a lot about,” Morton said. “To pitch against them, I fully expect to feel some emotions.”