Verlander is earning $28 million this year at age 36, part of a deal that includes a $22 million option for 2020 that would become guaranteed if he is among the top five in Cy Young Award voting this year.
He allowed five hits in 3 1/3 scoreless innings Thursday, striking out five and walking two.
The 2011 AL MVP has unsuccessfully attempted to add a changeup in the past. He has altered the way he’s releasing the pitch, which has him optimistic it will prove useful once the season starts.
“He’s always evolved,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “I watched him over the last 10 years, so it won’t surprise me if he makes it more of a part of his game, but I think he’s going to have to feel it and have some success to truly believe in it.”
Verlander’s fastball reached 97 mph. He threw 60 pitches and left with the bases loaded.
“I’m glad I went back out there for that last inning,” Verlander said. “Velo was where I’d like to see it. Got in a little bit of a jam, so got some adrenaline going.”
In other news, second baseman Jose Altuve did not play Thursday because of general left side soreness and likely will return to spring training games this weekend, Hinch said. Third baseman Alex Bregman also was out of the lineup after leaving Wednesday’s game with back stiffness. He might return to the lineup Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.