We won’t even touch on the subject of the Astros having to piece together a fifth starter from miscellaneous minor league and minor bullpen pieces, because at this point the Astros are focused on the post-season and the post-season means they need four starters or at least three starters and a two man tandem for the fourth spot. Fans know they have three solid, proven starters in Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke and two of those are far beyond solid.
They thought they had a solid, proven fourth starter in Wade Miley, who was cruising when he finished off the Orioles on August 9th. After that game he had a 2.99 ERA and a 11-4 record and had only failed to pitch 5 innings once in his last 20 starts. In his next start he got a no decision as he gave up 9 hits and 7 runs (3 earned) in 3.1 IP. He won his next start despite giving up 10 hits in 5.2 IP and then had a more Miley type game with 5 innings, 5 hits and 1 run allowed. The wheels then suddenly came off. He could not find the plate in a 3.2 IP start (95 pitches) with 5 walks. The next two were even worse as he gave up 5 runs without recording an out against the Mariners and then Tuesday night when he recorded one lonely out and was tagged with 7 runs in another way too short start.
If Miley needs to be shut down due to injury, or a dead arm or a dead head, that is a blow to the Astros in the short term, which may include a playoff run that is shorter than planned. In 2017 the Astros used four starters in each of the 3 rounds that they played in. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel of course started a game or two in each round. But in the ALDS Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton started games, Morton and Lance McCullers started games in the ALCS and in the World Series. Remember that neither Verlander nor Keuchel won any games in the World Series (but the bullpen is a discussion for another day).
Folks may think that the Astros should never have let Charlie Morton head out after last season, and looking at his sterling numbers (14-6, 3.11 ERA) folks are probably right. Folks may also have thought that the team should have gone after another starter at the trade deadline other than Greinke, but they may have already forgotten Aaron Sanchez, who looked like a great addition to the rotation…..for one start, followed by struggles and then shoulder surgery.
The Astros front office felt like they had a couple cards up their sleeves with Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh, who both have previously been very effective starters for this club. Unfortunately they have both been sporting shoulder discomfort, which more often ends at the surgeon’s office than on the pitcher’s mound.
If you can believe a few successful starts, Jose Urquidy may be the best choice to step in, if Miley has to step back. But the team may be very reticent to use him a lot from here on out given his young age and given the fact he is already well past the number of innings he threw last season.
If they don’t choose Urquidy, then it may come down to Framber Valdez or perhaps Rogelio Armenteros. It certainly won’t be Cy Sneed or Cionel Perez or even Josh James who have all struggled at times. A dark horse here would be to use Bryan Abreu in a starting role. He has not done that yet at the major league level, but has been very good in a few relief appearances.
Even though there is a lot of talent there, it would be a surprise to see them call on Cristian Javier after an eyepopping rise through the minors but only 11 innings of AAA ball or even a solid looking youngster like Brandon Bielak, who has been at Round Rock most of the season. Forrest Whitley? I think not.
The Plan(s) for the fourth spot in the rotation would seem to be as follows:
- Plan A – Fix Miley – figure out if he’s tipping his pitches, if he needs a two start vacation, if he’s home sick, whatever.
- Plan B – Figure out what everyone feels comfortable with as far as using Urquidy and follow that
- Plan C – See if they can get Framber Valdez to pitch as well with nobody on base and no outs as with men on base without having a visit from Brent Strom every other inning
- Plan D – Pray that Mr. Peacock or Mr. McHugh have a few good starts in their bag when or if they come back from the IL.
- Plan E – Surprise the opposition (and the fans) with mystery man in the rotation like Abreu or Javier.
- Plan F – Maybe use some scrambled mess of a 4th starter tandem situation – like Urquidy and Valdez.
Anyways – there you go. The Astros have a lot of options. Just not sure how many of them are good options.