HOUSTON — The Houston Astros will start Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
Manager A.J. Hinch announced the decision Tuesday, adding that left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, will start Game 2 on Friday against Drew Pomeranz.
"It's really deciding between two really deserving, really good guys," Hinch said. "So I didn't have a lot of stress about it other than we had to pick an order."
Verlander has been at his best since being acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a trade on Aug. 31. He's 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five starts since the deal and 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA in 33 starts overall this season.
"Verlander has pitched extraordinarily well since he got here," Hinch said. "The five starts we've seen have been exceptional. Dallas has pitched very well recently as well and obviously has a long history here. So for us, matching up we decided to go 1 Verlander, 2 Keuchel, which leaves open the option at the back end to do whatever we want if it ends up being a Game 5."
Verlander is a six-time All Star who has appeared in the playoffs five times. He is 7-5 with a 3.39 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 16 career post-season starts. He faced Boston twice this season while with Detroit but did not get a decision either time.
Verlander didn't speak with reporters on Tuesday, but his teammates raved about him after going through an afternoon workout that lasted about 90 minutes.
"He's meant a lot to this team," All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa said. "He's a game-changer not only when he's on the mound but when he's outside talking to the pitchers and talking about the hitters they've got to face and how to approach them. It's just fantastic to watch. He's an unbelievable pitcher ... and he's helping our rotation in a big way."
Keuchel has bounced back from a tough 2016 with a solid season, going 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA. He was limited to 23 starts because of a neck injury that landed him on the disabled list twice. But he has looked good recently, posting a 2.87 ERA in five September starts after compiling a 5.05 mark in six starts during August.
Hinch didn't reveal his entire roster for the best-of-five ALDS, but did say the Astros sent reliever Reymin Guduan, outfielder Colin Moran and third baseman J.D. Davis home because they won't be used in the post-season. Additionally, the club sent reliever Francis Martes, outfielder Tony Kemp and catcher Max Stassi to the instructional league in Florida to stay sharp. They won't be used in this series but could be needed down the road if the Astros advance.