WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — Sunshine, blue skies and palm trees.

Justin Verlander pitches and sounds like a 39-year-old pitcher who was already ready to go through 162 age-defying games.

The more things change for the rebuilt and then remade Astros, the more they stay the same.

With or without Carlos Correa.

Lance McCullers Jr.’s mound status again being shadowed by a question mark.

With manager Dusty Baker calmly patrolling the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches via golf cart on Sunday morning, general manager James Click talking about another round of questions about Correa, and a team that has come within two wins of a 2021 World Series championship starting a new season as it has been here before.

Experience and chemistry will guide these Astros through an accelerated post-lockdown world.

Winning is always at the heart of everything they do.

Some big names have changed. Many of the greatest still survive. And on a day that saw Yordan Alvarez coolly steal balls to right field and Kyle Tucker come across as more of a trusted veteran than a 25-year-old outfielder, Verlander captured the initial state of the 2022 Astros by looking like himself again on the first day of spring training.

The two-time Cy Young winner and 2017 World Series champion could have changed teams and colors after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He chose to stay with Houston’s MLB team primarily because the Astros have appeared in the Fall Classic three of the past five years and made the playoffs six times since 2015.

“When Kate (Upton) and I sat down and made a list of teams, I think No. 1 was the chance to win. It was at all levels. If a team didn’t have a chance to win, then we weren’t really interested,” said Verlander, who agreed to a one-year, $25 million deal in December that includes a potential player option in 2023.

Alex Bregman was back. His face and his swing were very familiar. Her hair color has changed.

Yuli Gurriel was instantly recognizable.

When Verlander shot down a mound, hitting 96 mph with opening day less than a month away, Michael Brantley stood in the box. The respected veteran outfielder punched Verlander after the end of the first spring session of 2022, then smiled and signed autographs as a nearby Verlander drew a buzzing crowd.

The Astros haven’t made a huge new signing since Game 6 of the last World Series inside Minute Maid Park. Correa’s future in baseball is yet to be determined. Baker and Click acknowledged on Sunday that the Astros’ shortstop position will be evaluated throughout the spring.

But bringing Verlander back has been huge for a franchise that averaged 103 wins from 2017-19, won 95 games and won the AL West last season, and will enter another campaign as playoff favorites.

How much is Verlander left on the mound?

His personal story says that there is no doubt about it and there are still a few chapters to be written for the future Hall of Famer.

“Now it’s like, okay, let’s get back in the ring,” said Verlander, who holds a career-high 226-129 with a 3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 3,013. strikeouts in 2,988 innings. “I feel invigorated. I feel excited. I feel blessed to be here, really.

Verlander has barely played for Baker, who is entering his third season as Astros manager. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft has pitched just six innings since Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, which also marked Gerrit Cole’s last game as an Astro. The world of baseball has changed dramatically since then. The real world, more so.

“I’ve been really focused on my family and my little girl,” said Verlander, who avoided watching regular-season baseball while rehabilitating but tuned in to last year’s playoffs. “I don’t know where I would be without my daughter. It was really a saving grace to have her and to be able to spend that time with them and watch her grow, and really connect in a way that I don’t know if I could have had I played at baseball.

Click highlighted the depth of the Astros’ roster across the board as baseball resumed. Starting arm and bullpen, infield and outfield.

The teams that make the most noise in December and March are often overlooked when October returns. The 2022 Astros are already reflecting the club of last season, thanks to the underrated power of consistency.

“It’s a roster we feel very good with,” Click said. “And so when I say we may have to be creative and flexible in trying to find ways to improve it, it’s because our players have put us in a good position to have some really good options at almost all positions.”

New and familiar faces, decked out in bright orange jerseys, converged near a dugout as Verlander surveyed the scene around home plate.

He fired shots. He challenged himself. He approached 100mph in mid-March, while Bregman and Alvarez cracked the line away a field.

The Astros lost Cole and nearly returned to the World Series.

They lost George Springer the following offseason, then finished two wins away from their second world title.

With or without Correa, this should still be one of the best teams in the American League in 2022.

Verlander could have signed anyone at this stage of his career.

He wanted to stay with the Astros.

“Know the team. Meet Dusty. Knowing all the guys, knowing how awesome the locker room is,” Verlander said. “Knowing the people of Houston and how much fun we had playing in Houston, we made some really good friends in Houston. All of those reasons kind of put the Astros above everyone else.

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