Tuesday countdown: Options, decisions abound for 2016 pitching


After so few starting pitching options last off-season — remember Roberto Hernandez and Asher Wojciechowski starting the season (temporarily) in the rotation? — 2016 appears to be a season of almost too many options.

Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers Jr., Vincent Velasquez, Scott Feldman, Scott Kazmir, Mike Fiers, Brett Oberholtzer, Dan Straily, Asher W., Brad Peacock and Sam Deduno have all started games for the Astros this season and are on the 40-man roster or the disabled list.

There are various arguments for minor leaguers like Mark Appel, Mike Hauschild, Luis Cruz, Joseph Musgrove, Michael Feliz (yes he has been in the bullpen for the big club) and Chris Devenski who could have a shot at making the rotation.

There are nearly as many options as there are decisions ahead. Here are just a few of the challenging questions to be answered by Jeff Luhnow and his minions.

  1. Scott Kazmir. To offer or not to offer? He was one of the best pitchers the last couple years…until traded into a pennant race. Now if you did not know better you would think McCullers is the grizzled veteran and Kazmir is the green rookie.
  2. Rule 5 protection. Protect Cruz, Hauschild, Musgrove (their minor league pitcher of the year), Devenski, Hauschild or Feliz?
  3. Trade anyone? Is McHugh at his peak somehow winning 18 games with an ERA near 4? Obie? One of the young guys?
  4. Part company and DFA Peacock or Wojciechowski or Deduno?
  5. Bring Feldman back and then trade him at the deadline?
  6. Give #1 overall pick Appel a rotation spot, just because?
  7. Decide that the best way to have a “big” arm in the bullpen is to convert a starter like LMJ? Someone else?

The plus side is that they have choices. The negative side is that some of these guys will definitely not be in the organization next spring.

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95 comments on “Tuesday countdown: Options, decisions abound for 2016 pitching

  1. Tough call on Kazmir. Can’t decide till we see his next start. Something does not feel right. He was under pressure in first start and was brilliant, so what happened? Keep McHugh for sure, as he will only improve. Keep Peacock as a late inning reliever, with possibility of closer role. Keep Feldman and trade next year. Give Obie one more chance, but send him to a good therapist. Appel needs more minor league time.

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  2. Now we are down to 5 games and the Astros won one on the road – like they have been winning them at home most of the season.
    Home runs – check – 3 solo shots – Springer, Gattis and back from the dead Carter
    Solid Starting pitching – check – LMJ with 6 innings two run ball
    Close them down bullpen – check – Riding 2 innings from Sipp, 1/3 from Perez and the last two outs by Luke “I don’t want to come out of this game no matter how bad I’m pitching” Gregerson

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  3. 1.Scott Kazmir.

    I had read, somewhere, where he was unhappy with the trade to Houston? Can anyone else say that they read or heard the same? If he is unhappy then do not sign him! On the other hand, he has not been spectacular with the Astros, he is just average. Let him go where he can be happy.

    2.Rule 5 protection. Protect Cruz, Hauschild, Musgrove (their minor league pitcher of the year), Devenski, Hauschild or Feliz?

    Protect all of them.

    3.Trade anyone? Is McHugh at his peak somehow winning 18 games with an ERA near 4? Obie? One of the young guys?

    Trade from strength and get a couple of future players.

    4.Part company and DFA Peacock or Wojciechowski or Deduno?

    Peacock has been a HUGE disappointment. He cannot stay healthy so DFA him. The other two, I have not seen enough of them.

    5.Bring Feldman back and then trade him at the deadline?

    Feldman has a contract to be here anyway. Maybe trade him during this off season.

    6.Give #1 overall pick Appel a rotation spot, just because?

    I would not “give” Appel a rotation spot but I would allow him to try to earn it during the spring games next season.

    7.Decide that the best way to have a “big” arm in the bullpen is to convert a starter like LMJ?

    Not McCullers. It is nice to have a power arm in the rotation. Put Velasquez in that situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kazmir said it to the media covering the trade that he was “stunned to get traded and I have developed a brother like relationship with my fellow pitchers and teammates.”

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  4. As an example only, someone in the Mets thought McHugh needed to go. And they won their division. So it is time for someone in the Astros to trim those that had a chance and did not perform. There may be a “McHugh” when one gets to another team. Do I expect Dallas & Colin to be 22 games over .500 next year? No. But they are winning so until they stop winning, skip the other stats. There is an old saying that “You never have too much pitching.” That might need to be amended to “Good pitching.” This winter, the top 20 pitchers need to be on the 40 man to include those that need a little more minor league time.

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  5. Wow Crater MVP of September baseball is a crazy game and really you don’t pinch hit for Castro, OMG I almost passed out from yelling. Lowrie is clutch man.)-:

    Ok Keuchel, McHugh, LMJ, Friers you have to keep after the trade and no hitter Feldman to open season with, Appel and Devenski close along with Musgrove

    I think VV may end up a Bullpen guy and Feliz

    Straily and Obie good in Fresno

    Peacock, wojo, Deduno who cares

    Kazmir see ya I think would be ok in Big ball park- pitcher friendly

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  6. Let’s talk Rule V. Here are the guys I want to protect who will be eligible:
    Heineman
    Hauschild
    Denenski
    Musgrove
    Gustave
    Frias
    Paulino

    That’s one catcher and 6 pitchers. Duffy is on the 40 already. Sclafani would be the gamble, I expect. His versatility and OBP make him a worthy pick for an NL team. Lack of power and subpar defense mean it will be tough to add him to the 40.

    Looking at our 40, here is the group of guys I’d be making decisions on offers to resign or trying to trade:
    Chapman
    Cruz
    Perez
    Thatcher
    Deduno
    Peacock
    Straily
    Wojo
    Conger
    Carter
    Valbuena
    Grossman
    Hoes

    Guys who will be too expensive to re-sign unless they give Luhnow a discount:
    Kazmir
    Rasmus

    My rotation entering ST would be:
    Keuchel, McHugh, LMJ, Feldman, Fiers

    My Fresno rotation would be:
    Appel, Musgrove, Devenski, Feliz, Olber, Hauschild, Rogers, … , great…how are we going to fit everyone in?

    For the record, I would love to keep Kazmir. He is a proven lefty starter. I’d probably try to give him some time off in August next year, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keuchel, McHugh and LMJ are etched in stone for me as rotation starters.
    Protect Devenski and start him in Fresno, but I think he is a major league reliever because of that fastball/sinker combination. That could be devastating in the bullpen
    Protect Musgrove and start him in Fresno, as I think he is a future MOR major league starter.
    Keep Cruz. I think he may win a spot in the bullpen next year. I think the front office knows something about him and his pitching that they aint talkin’ about. He blossomed late in the year out of the pen in Fresno.
    Keep Feliz in Fresno or CC as a starter. He needs to work more but is a major league caliber pitcher.
    Appel starts in Fresno!
    Rodgers out of the bullpen in Fresno. See if you can get two major league pitches from him and an average third and groom him for the pen.
    I see a healthy Fiers and Feldman as BOR starters next season, unless Luhnow lets Kazmir’s money walk and goes for a big name/big money ace in free agency.
    I could see Velasquez as part of Houston’s retooled bullpen next spring with that big fastball and two complementary pitches.
    Would not be surprised to see Velasquez, Cruz, Fields, Neshek, Gregerson, Sipp, and a new closer in that bullpen.
    I salivate at the thought of Keuchel, McHugh and LMJ at the top of the rotation and Appel and Musgrove in Fresno starting.
    I’m sorry, but I’m over it with Wojo, Ober and Deduno and Peacock, Thatcher, and Oliver Perez. There are just too many good arms in the minors to protect. These guys have had their chances.
    I plead guilty of not knowing what to do with Gustave, Hauschild and Jankowski. Hauschild is such a ground ball machine.
    Why would anyone even consider trading McHugh right now? He makes league minimum next year! He not only has 18 wins, he has only 7 losses pitching for a bottom ten hitting team! He’s only 28 and is just hitting his prime as a pitcher.
    I just go crazy thinking about our possibilities with the pitchers in our system and I cringe at Luhnow being in charge of them.
    I know Brett Phillips doesn’t pitch, but I can’t help saying I miss him, every chance I get!

    Liked by 2 people

    • 1oldpro, you’ve saved me a post. Most anything I’d be writing would be redundant. One thing though. Fiers would be at least middle of the rotation on most clubs. To have him as a 4th or 5th starter on our club speaks to the potential depth of our group. And I let Kazmir go at this point. Feldman keeps a job to start the season.

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  8. I kind of wanted to be clear on a couple points. Even though I asked the questions about trading McHugh and moving LMJ to the bullpen – I am not in favor of either of those options.
    McHugh and LMJ are giving the Astros very solid or better pitching without injuries to this point. There are only 38 pitchers in all the AL who have enough innings to be “qualified”. McHugh, Keuchel, Kazmir are 3 of those and McCullers would be right there if he had been in the majors the whole season. It is tough to find pitchers who are durable and better than average.

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  9. Devin and OP1: Took the words right out of my mouth. My only comment is with regard to Appel who I think would be a great swap for Feldman after he gets traded IF AND ONLY IF he really earns it. The days of promoting Appel just because he was a 1-1 ought to be over, especially since LMJ has eclipsed him at every stop.

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  10. Forgot to mention Kazmir who is one of my personal favorite people because of his relationship with my son and grandsons. IIRC he faded in 2014 like this. He made the All Star team but was a part of Oakland’s cratering late in the season. I would like to see him re-signed but perhaps his innings ought to be watched carefully as well. A rotation of Keuchel, McHugh, LMJ, Fiers and Kazmir would look pretty solid to me. Maybe trade Feldman over the winter if Kazmir signs. If Kazmir doesn’t sign Feldman is not a bad plan B.

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    • DrBill, I am glad you have been paying attention to Kazmir’s performance for the past couple of years. I was not myself. 😉 Considering what you have observed, then yes, I would welcome him being resigned with a “meter” on his innings pitched.

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  11. My only hesitation with signing Kazmir for two or three years, is he had the look of “I don’t know what I’m doing” in his last start. Watching him in the dugout was alarming, because he really DID have that look on his face. I don’t know how much this season has done to devalue his hunt for big money, but if I was Luhnow…..I would be hesitant to offer a lot of money to this guy. I guess we will have to see how he does tomorrow. Old pro and Devin put on paper how most of us think. The pitchers are a no brainer. We won’t see Peacock, Oberholtzer, Denudo, Thatcher and probably Wojo next year. Even if the Astros somehow land one of those BIG arm closers, I still want to keep Gregerson. He’s signed for two more years I think, and he still has a lot of value. As far as Appel is concerned, I think we will be pleasantly surprised to see how much he has improved, and I expect him to come to spring training ready to pitch.
    NOW…..do we trust Luhnow to go out and get a closer ie: Chapman, or Kimbrel without giving up the farm? Nope….I don’t. Look at what we gave up for Gomez, Kasmir, and Conger…..I’m still pissed about the Gomez trade, AND the Conger deal.
    It appears that McCullers has garrenteed his spot in next year’s rotation, and if Chris Devenski, and Joe Musgrove step up…..we will have a *WOW* rotation! That would let Luhnow try and trade Feldman, or Fires. I don’t know about the rest of you, but going into the 9th last night with a one run lead, made me sooo nervous, because we’ve seen it over and over again when the bullpen coughs up the lead, and the team loses. AND….the Tigers bullpen might be worse than ours!!
    Let’s do this again tonight guys!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll say it again should have been at least 4-2 , Castro 0-3 , 3 strikeouts we leave him in for the Golden Sombrero. Are u kidding me., I would have bet a lot on the fact Duffy gets his bat on a ball! #we were so lucky!

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      • Kevin….I was happy having Castro catching last night, because Conger is a disaster behind the plate.
        Stassi hasn’t gained the confidence of his manager yet, to put him into catch. If we build a big lead tonight (I hope!) we might see Stassi….maybe.

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      • To start the game yes in the 9th 0-3 , 3 K’s , lefty on the mound, No way Hinch Stassi Conger, Duffy all give us a better chance to get the guy in from 3rd with 1 out UGH

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      • Castro certainly was clueless at the plate but I want him behind the plate in the ninth with perhaps only a one run lead and Seager, Cruz and Cano coming to the plate. He had eight innings to study what they were doing and how best to attack them. I’m not sure I want to put Stassi in that position and I absolutely DO NOT want Conger there. As the bottom of the ninth unfolded I’m glad Castro was behind the dish. You often see defensive substitutions late in the game but with a lead you want to keep your best defensive player in the most critical defensive position. For the sake of one offensive at bat you lose Castro and his acumen. If we’re behind pinch hitting might make more sense but not with a lead.

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      • Stassi would have been fine in the night he block balls 5 times better than Castro ever will and 4-2 way better tan 3-2 were lucky

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  12. The M’S pitcher Nuno, hasn’t lasted more than 4 innings in any start this year. I went to the hitter pitcher splits, and it looks like Gattis and Casto are the only ones who haven’t got a hit against him. Not saying the guy isn’t good, but with manager like Lloyd Mcclendon no pitcher is safe on the mound…..he has a very short leash. Same manager who thinks Dallas Keuchel is “just an average pitcher”.

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  13. *Trade anyone? *

    The only reason to trade anyone [other than a ‘change of scenery’ or ‘cash considerations situation – i.e. the Conger/Grossman situation] is to:
    1. upgrade the team over present alternatives, or
    2. stockpile talent for the future.

    I our case #2 is really not applicable, as we have one of the best stockpiles of talent in the major leagues. So that only leaves ‘upgrade’. And in looking at our positions and pitching options, I am not sure any trade we could work out would actually result in upgrading. The only ones we have to trade are: Carter (with too high a salary and arb coming up), Gattis, and Fields. We won’t be able to upgrade over Keuchel, McCullers, or McHugh at the top of the rotation. We won’t even be looking to upgrade over Correa at SS, Altuve at 2B, Springer in RF, or Marwin as super-sub. We aren’t likely to upgrade over the 1B options of Tyler White/Matt Duffy/Jon Singleton – with A.J. Reed waiting in the wings at 1B. We aren’t likely to upgrade over P. Tucker/White/Reed at DH. I also don’t think we’ll upgrade again in CF (Gomez/Marisnick) or LF (Kemp/Marisnick). That just leaves 3B, C, and bullpen. Who – besides Carter, Gattis, Grossman, Hoes, and Fields – are we willing to let go of in the trade market, and what real upgrade will those guys bring?

    Liked by 2 people

    • In 2016, I would be happy with Lowrie at 3B, because he was hurt and hasn’t fully recovered, he is a flyball hitter only because he has been encouraged to be so, and he is out of shape because of his time off.
      The Idea was for him to move over when Correa got here and Correa is here. Next season is the time to get your money out of Lowrie, because being versatile was the reason he was hired. He has been very adequate at 3B and Moran and Davis are moving up. I like Lowrie and what he has to offer the team next year if he is healthy and toward the #6 or #7 spot in the lineup as a switch hitter.
      Catcher: Either Conger is hurt or the team recognizes that he is not what they thought he was. I am going with the latter. The Ideal situation would be to settle in arbitration with Castro because his bat has brought his price down. Forget about Conger and let Stassi be the RH batting alternative at catcher next year. Heineman delivered big time for the organization in AAA and their playoffs and should be given a chance to make the team sometime next year by being given Conger’s 40-man spot.
      As far as trade material I think we still have some trade material that won’t mortgage the farm.
      We don’t necessarily have to trade for a closer. Get the pitching brains of the organization together and either find a pitcher in our system or an ace free agent starting pitcher, who allows us to take LMJ and make him a closer. One thing about LMJ, he has the absolutely perfect mentality to be a closer. I could close my eyes and picture that reaction he would have closing out a huge win. And I could picture his stuff when he gets to the mound and realizes he can put everything into getting three batters out.

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      • OP1: Having LMJ as a closer would be an incredible luxury and would mean our rotation was really top notch. I’m not sure we’re close to that. LMJ and his hard stuff in the rotation seems like the perfect complement to our softer throwing staff as it is configured now. Also, do you want to forego an opportunity to get perhaps 180-200 high quality innings as a starter for 50-60 as a closer? But what about grooming Velasquez for that role?

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      • Kevin…..we HAD a good lefty, his name was Josh Hader…..he got traded to the A’s for Kazmir…..grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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    • Kevin, I don’t think we have a best lefty starter on the farm, which is why I don’t think the Astros’s brain trust thought Hader was going to make it as a starter.
      The Astros have decided to send Holmes to AFL. He’s a lefty and Shirley is a lefty and Emanuel is a lefty.
      drBill, you notice that my idea of LMJ as a closer is only suggested if we sign one of the big name free agent ace starters, which frees up LMJ to close. I’m talking Cueto/Price type of pitcher, which we would have the money to sign if we dump all our high strikeout/high salary/low average players in this offseason.

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  14. With regards to trades I do think Lunhow has been mediocre while his drafting and free agent acquisitions have been pretty darn good. On the trade side you won’t get upgrades for guys like Carter, Grossman, Hoes, etc but you can get prospects for them. If you want to upgrade your weaknesses through trades you have to spend prospects and/or money. All of our prospects will not see an Astros uniform in their future. Holding on to them is more like hoarding for the sake of keeping your minor league system well regarded. I’d rather my big league team be well regarded. I still think that because of our previously lousy big league team this group and others became so enamored of our minor leaguers and teams that we forget they are a means to an end. All of the hand wringing over trading Phillips, Santana,and Hader for Fiers and Gomez seems pretty silly. Lunhow spent some of his prospect currency for a gold glove center fielder who does have significant offensive ability and a MOR pitcher who we can control for several seasons. I think that’s a pretty good trade. And even the Kazmir trade brought us a known commodity and historically good pitcher for a couple of kids who MIGHT be good in the future. About the only guy I wish Lunhow had kept instead of traded would be Carlos Perez who I think would be a much better backup catcher alternative than Conger.

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    • Kevin, I watched Hader pitch and that delivery was deceptive, but it was funky! I could not see how we were going to make a major league starter out of him with that delivery. His body went all different directions and he was walking people because he could not repeat his delivery.
      I still think he will be a reliever some day if he can conquer the wildness. I loved the kid, but I am afraid of that elbow.

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    • That really bothers me. We are desperate for wins and can’t afford to let a team run amok like the Rangers did against Conger. I was hoping they would just claim he had a sore shoulder and we never see him again. As it is I am guessing if the Astros make the playoffs Conger will be the backup catcher.

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  15. At least Seattle is not a running team with only 67 SB and 45 CS. It’s a chance to give Castro a blow and maybe Hammerin Hank will get a case of Carteritis and do something with the bat. Would sure like to see Marisnick and/or Lowrie hit their tenth homer tonight.

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    • OTOH Conger better not see the field against Arizona unless the game is meaningless. Give Castro the night off today, back in the lineup tomorrow, off day Thursday and then every game against Arizona until we clinch a spot.

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  16. I still don’t like having him behind the plate. The pitchers are just starting to come around from his last fiasco.
    He makes the pitchers nervous. He makes me nervous.

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  17. Billy, he’s a crappy catcher but I wouldn’t call him a bum. I heard he’s a nice guy. In spike of his frightening play behind the plate, he’s still got that .880 OPS against righty pitching. Someone likely decided it was worth the risk having him in the line up for that reason.

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    • Exactly…he wouldn’t have.

      That’s what I don’t get…we’re trying like hell to make the playoffs, and every game counts, so what do we do? Put a horrible excuse for a catcher behind the plate against LHP, which he struggles with, for what? To justify a bad trade?

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    • The injury to Gomez is highlighted by those two runs. With JFSF in LF there is a good chance the first run doesn’t score, the ball doesn’t bounce away, and Seager gets stranded at 2B. Yeah, Conger should have blocked the throw…typical lazy D that we see instead of pouncing and keeping a ball in the diamond…but if Marwin can’t make a 200 ft throw he shouldn’t be in LF either.

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  18. I remember a few years backs when we couldn’t win 60 games. They brought up a lot of the young talent and none of them got to play. I’m always hearing about other teams who bring up guys, they put them in and they immediately contribute. Yes it’s frustrating.

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  19. You remember the pitcher we traded Conger for? Yeah…well he got a standing ovation tonight, because he literally shut the A’S down. Remember his name
    Nick Tropeano.

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  20. Villar has played in 51 games this season with the Astros and the team’s record in those games is 23-28.
    If you want your team to lose, put Hank Conger behind the plate. In Conger’s 71 games this season the Astros are 29-42.
    If you want your outfielders to pick up throwing errors, let them throw to Hank Conger.
    I am so disappointed this morning at 1 am in my team.

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  21. That damn trade gets harder and harder to stomach. Perez has turned into one of the best back up catchers in the game, and Tropeano helps with another blow to our playoff hopes.

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  22. Needless to say, but the Astros season has come down to tonight’s game. The Angels aren’t losing to Oakland so an Astros loss tonight and we can start the Hot Stove League talk. Just another crushing 8th inning September meltdown for the Astros bullpen last night. I was pessimistic about making the playoffs a few weeks ago and I am more pessimistic today, but win tonight and it might give me some hope.

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  23. I see the Astros needing to win out or at least 3-1. Rangers vs. Angels, they will split 4 wins. If the Rangers sweep, we may be in the WC. But right now, it is imperative to have some wins. No way any team helps us when we lose.

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