Smackdown and Raw find a rhythm as Wrestlemania comes into focus

Smackdown and Raw find a rhythm as Wrestlemania comes into focus

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio, Sports and Wrestling. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio shows www.nerdthugradio.com!

Wrestlemania begins to come into focus as the card fills out this week.

This week's Raw had a fairly strong showing with what felt like a limited roster of available talent with No Way Jose even getting television time against Elias. The Ronda heel turn continues to be a mixed bag with a second squash match against Dana Brooke ended with an arm bar this time but still was incredibly underwhelming, even though WWE went the extra mile and injected Ronda's real life husband Travis Browne into the storyline. It's obvious they're laying the ground work to put the title on someone else and give Ronda some shelf time after a year of domination in the women's division but how it all ends will determine if the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak.

Ricochet, still sporting an NXT logo next to his name, got a single's match against rarely seen Jinder Mahal and Baron Corbin had a match against equally forgotten Apollo Crews. With the announcement of Beth Phoenix coming back for a Wrestlemania women's tag match against the champs Sasha and Bayley, the farewell match with Kurt Angle and the Triple H vs Bautista match the nostalgia factor has been upped to an almost impossible margin for this year's Wrestlemania.

All of that being said, the card is shaping up to feel a little underwhelming, with Kurt Angle's farewell match coming about six months too late, and the second title defense of the women's tag titles against only one current women athlete it feels like there's a lot of underutilization of the talented roster that WWE is boasting these days. When a guy like Braun Stroman goes from regularly main eventing WWE events to being in the Andre the Giant memorial battle royal, it leaves fans wondering.

Smackdown managed to squeeze a fair amount of action into their two hours this week with Sasha and Bailey having a tag match against the Iconics, while giving screentime to Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, The Miz and Rey Mysterio Jr. This kind of balance and pacing is something Smackdown has been struggling with focusing too much on their core roster of aged veterans Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Randy Orton and R Truth and not getting enough quality matches into the program. The Gauntlet match was everything it was expected to be with Kofi Kingston putting in a solid hour of work against each member of The Bar individually, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton and Rowan before losing to Daniel Bryan. The build up of Kofi Kingston into legendary status for this inevitable Wrestlemania match against Daniel Bryan in the main event is the kind of storytelling that works when WWE is focused. There have been so many starts and stops in various storylines over the past few months that the programming had started to feel rudderless but this one they're getting right and when things work and the payoff hits home like this Kofi story has, it reminds people why the WWE has ruled the wrestling world for so long. What happens next week is now must see television.

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Welcome back, Justin! Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will make his season debut Friday night at the Washington Nationals.

Houston manager Joe Espada made the announcement Wednesday.

“Getting him back is huge because it brings a level of confidence to our team, a boost of confidence that we’re going to get someone who’s been an MVP, a Cy Young (winner) on the mound,” Espada said. “It's (good) for the morale and to get stuff started and moving in the right direction.”

The three-time Cy Young Award winner opened the season on the injured list with inflammation in his right shoulder. He made two rehabilitation starts, the first for Triple-A Sugar Land on April 7 before Saturday’s start for Double-A Corpus Christi.

Espada wouldn't say how many pitches the 41-year-old would be limited to but said they'll keep an eye on his workload.

“We've got to be careful how hard we push him early,” Espada said. “I know he’s going to want to go and stay out there and give us an opportunity to win, but we've got to be cautious of how hard we push him early in the season.”

Verlander wasn’t thrilled with the results in his rehabilitation starts, but he said Monday that those games were valuable in getting him prepared to come off the IL.

He allowed seven hits and six runs — five earned — in four innings against Frisco on Saturday. He struck out three, walked one and threw 51 of 77 pitches for strikes.

Verlander allowed six earned runs and struck out six while pitching into the fourth inning for Sugar Land on April 7.

The Astros have gotten off to a tough start with Verlander and fellow starters Framber Valdez and José Urquidy on the injured list. They enter Wednesday's games last in the AL West with a 6-13 record.

Espada hopes Verlander can be the boost the team needs to get on track.

“It’s good to get him back in the rotation,” Espada said. “With what he means to this club just to get him back on track, getting some innings from him (to) build our rotation with the pieces that we need to move forward is exciting.”

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