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Astros to start Justin Verlander in Game 4 vs. Rays opener

Verlander pitched seven-plus shutout innings in Game 1. He’ll be opposed by Diego Castillo and Co.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Astros will start Justin Verlander — “one of the best pitchers in the world,’’ according to Astros manager A.J. Hinch — on short rest in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday at Tropicana Field.

For openers, the Rays will use right-hander Diego Castillo — followed by a world of mix-and-match relievers.

RaysBall at its finest.

“The Rays have a very effective way of getting through 27 outs,’’ Hinch said. “You have to face somebody different seems like every inning or every at-bat. You give good hitters different looks every at-bat, it gets more and more difficult to settle in.

“When you play (the Rays) in the last couple of seasons, with the exception of Charlie (Morton) and (Blake) Snell, you kind of come expecting to face seven, eight, nine pitchers.’’

It begins with Castillo (5-8, 3.41 ERA), who was utilized as the opener six times in his 65 appearances this season. Castillo, a high-velocity pitcher whose fastball can reach 100 mph, also has eight saves. In the opener role, he will be asked to get between three and six outs.

After that — if you’re a pitcher not named Charlie Morton, Blake Snell or Tyler Glasnow — there’s a good chance you’ll see action.

“We’ll start with Diego and from there, it depends on where we land in the batting order,’’ Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re capable of multiple innings from a lot of guys in the bullpen.’’

The Rays were 69-50 in regular-season games when using a traditional starting pitcher and 27-16 in games started by openers (which was only employed twice in 25 September games and none since Sept. 10).

Overall, the Rays bullpen led the majors with a 3.66 ERA. After the trade deadline (Aug. 1 to season’s end), the bullpen ERA was 3.39 with a majors-best 10.67 strikeouts per nine innings.

“The numbers speak for themselves,’’ Morton said. “You’d be hard-pressed to not argue we’re a top-three staff in all of baseball, top to bottom. We’re pretty flexible, too. I think we’re well built to adjust, given any scenario.

“I mean, the arms that we’re featuring in the bullpen, there are no weaknesses. Just a tremendous amount of confidence. I think we’re in a pretty good spot.’’

Castillo is excited about the opportunity.

“I’m just here to do everything we’ve done all year long since the beginning of the year,’’ Castillo said. “My job is to give 100 percent of what I can do for them.’’

Castillo and an arsenal of relievers. For the Rays, that approach has made a world of difference.

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