Astros in search of the fourth starter


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.

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68 comments on “Astros in search of the fourth starter

  1. Javier is scheduled to start for Round Rock on Saturday. If he pitches well I think they should bring him up for a look. He has only pitched 113 innings.

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    • Sanchez has not been placed on the 60- day to date. That is good because it means that Javier (or another pitcher not on the 40 man) can be added as a direct replacement due to injury if he is moved to the 60 day at a later date.

      Or another pitcher on the current roster could mysteriously come down with a season ending injury.

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  2. Charlie Morton decision looks worse all the time and still brings pain. Is there a full moon (tomorrow) trade deadline where we could get him back for our current bullpen?

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    • Yeah, I agree. Obviously we don’t know what was offered to Charlie, but the Astros will be paying more for Greinke than it would have cost to retain Morton. They’re also going to be losing Cole this offseason. We have yet to develop any pitching under Luhnow. That’s something the Cardinals did pretty well when he was there. Hopefully they can make some changes to their scouting and development and fix that.

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  3. Although Charlie has my heart, we can’t look back on that decision. We were soo lucky to have Peacock and McHugh in the bullpen in 2017. BUT…..both of them probably won’t even factor this year. No word on McHugh….and really no word on Peacock either. The suggestion about doing a tandem with Framber and Urquidy could work, but again Urquidy has never pitched this many innings!
    What we REALLY need to do is get the Wade Miley who could pitch back again!!
    Put Sanchez and McHugh on the 60 IL, and bring up any guy that throw a baseball!! I had such high hopes for this team when we traded for Greinke….it would be sad not to make through because Wade Miley couldn’t pitch the rest of the season, or in the playoffs😭. Think good thoughts that we eek out a win tonight!

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    • I distinctly remember telling myself not to mention Charlie again and here I turn around and do it. That’s what I don’t like about myself. I don’t listen. Except when I shouldn’t.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hated seeing Charlie go and I miss him even more than I thought I would.
        I’ve watched a lot of baseball in my life and my gut tells me Miley is done for the season.

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  4. I’m stumped, because I don’t see a solution other than Miley regaining his effectiveness. I’m dubious though, because both Seattle and the A’s simply owned him in similar fashion. Javier intrigues me, but gosh he’s got so little experience. Abreu has looked sharp in a couple of outings, but he tends to walk guys too. I see Urquidy in the post season, because our other options are limited. Injuries. Too many. It puts more pressure on Verlander, Cole and Grienke. Right now the A’s are playing better baseball than us. Maybe we should not look so far down the road just yet.

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  5. The As are pretty close to unbeatable right now. Without Gurriel and Correa, Pressley and Peacock, we are just not able to stay up with them. I suspect we are watching the World Champions of 2019.

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  6. Yeah…..well it looks like the A’s will take this one too….since our guys can’t pull their heads out. Verlander 77 pitches through 3. GOOD LORD.

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  7. Maybe I’m falling back into my cynical thinking again, but our guys sure look disinterested right now. The A’s just seem to want it more. That 15-0 loss on Monday made them dig deeper. Still not an easy road for the A’s. There are quite a few solid clubs out there and the Yankees are getting healthier too. I just don’t know if we can win the whole thing, even with three excellent starters. I don’t care what the stats say, but the pen has been our question mark all year. And unless a bunch of guys suddenly start pitching better, we don’t make it through October.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. JV came back and locked it down but here again our anemic bats, Tuve running into dumb, unnecessary outs, I mean, what the hell! Man on 1-2, no outs, another golden opportunity squandered. I’m speechless.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. 0 – 10 RISP….That is beyond pathetic. Keep playing like this and we’ll take nothing back! What a waste staying up till midnight to witness this fiasco.

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  10. I was at the game last night. My co-workers had been threatening to take me all season and succeeded. Verlander was laboring early; eventually got better groove and had 11 strikeouts. It was so good to see them in person, although they just seemed flat to me. Beloved wee ‘Tuve tries to steal third and I’m asking my friends why and they look at me blankly, cause they ain’t no answer for that. Then he comes up to the plate again and I suggested to a colleague that he should maybe try stealing first. Then we get bases loaded and Kyle Tucker at bat and all that had stayed on their feet and me having visions of a happy ending and mighty Casey does his thing. One last shot in the ninth and me boogying at an unmentionable hour, I don’t boogey at any hour, and no, it was not meant to be. Well, that was my night out for the decade. At least I saw them in the flesh. However, from what I witnessed, we all need to see them in the spirit even more.

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  11. Do you think that once in a blue moon that we might try to do something out of the ordinary like a “sacrifice bunt”? Or even push the ball down the third baseline to beat the shift? How many times did we have runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs and we get nothing, nada, nunca, zip, zero, neyt. Sometimes you have to take what your being given. It may not be flashy or fancy but I really don’t care as long as we win the game. A win is a win no matter how you do it. Also that idiot behind the plat had one of the widest strike zones I’ve ever seen. Some of those pitches were 2″ off the plate. It seem Reddick is the only guy on this team that will get in an umpires face. Sometimes you have to get fired up. JV did this too. The others seem to be a little too “nice”. We need to get nasty occasionally, especially at this time of the year or we’ll be watching the WS on TV. Get some fire in the belly!

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  12. Sometimes I read the box score to see if I remember the game correctly. So – Yes- we grounded into our customary double play. Yes, we had as many hits as opponent. Yes we got 5 more walks. And of course YES we were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and left 10 on base. Another solid starting pitcher performance doomed by not hitting in the Clutch (which the smart guys say does not exist). But we must lead the league in “swinging for the fences” when a single or even a bunt would do.

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  13. I think the last 3 games could be the point we look back at and say darn, thus why we will not have the best record and have to win it all on the road.

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  14. What bugs me the most is that when you looked at the Astros September schedule – these were the games they should have been hyped up about – this was the most important series towards a clinch of the division. And after cruising in the first game they laid three different eggs in a row. These were the games they should have circled on the calendar because each win scratches 2 games off the magic number. And it reinforces that if we should meet in the playoffs we will take you down.
    This just reinforced that the Astros can fall into a swoon at an inopportune time.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Yes, we have a pitching conundrum. Injuries, we have those to. We still have a winning rec in Sept, so what changed? Nothing! This is still the Astros, right?
    If ever a tm needed a RESET, it’s this tm. They look & play like a tm ready for dog days of Sept to end right now. (That tm over east has same issues as us, maybe worse, but keep winning because they OWNED their fate). Anyone see our lineup card on TV with those gaudy avg? With CC, 1-7 looks like a lineup of rock stars. You don’t maintain those avg with a bunch of swing & miss.
    Zanuda, OP, Dan made valid points (small ball, plate discipline, winning attitude, esp when you’re down/not up).
    This LINEUP is the %&$, the best in MLB! This LINEUP has to OWN the fate of the SP & BP by helping carry this tm to another WS win! Who will step up with that late inning JV explosive moment to spark some fire in this tm now & in the playoffs?
    This LINEUP knows how to sit & hit, make pitchers pitch TOO them, not away from them! Hopefully they reset after Sept (before actually), a short break. Moving forward they have to play smart, bat smart & OWN their destiny else they’ll be watching the WS from home.

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    • Not to argue your point but for me the stats are/can be misleading. Example would be 135 ground into double plays (270 outs). In that inning, example only, you can get a hit, DP, and two more hits and score nothing.

      The brain trust does not believe in manufactured runs. So we don’t do that. We are 19th in stolen bases (57) and 10th in being caught stealing (27 times) That is being successful 52% of the time. We are aggressive to a fault. How many singles and doubles have been thrown out trying for the next base. Again, in my opinion, we do not play smart baseball.

      That is how you lead the league in BA, hits, walks, and not in runs.

      (And don’t get me started on Astros outfielders all playing centerfield on hits near the regular spot of the normal outfielders.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • 45 has outlined the problem. The front office does not believe in small ball in any situation, (sorry Becky).
        So we live or die by the big swing. Lately it’s killed us.

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  16. I’m not going to pick on our guys. Clearly, small ball and base stealing have been panned by the nerd squad as counter productive and the results of their analytics have been taken as gospel. Jose has always been one of my two favorite Astros, because he’s always been an overachiever, but alas, he’s also not the smartest base runner around. We all recognize that I think . We have to accept the whole package, much like we’ll be accepting the whole Jordan Alvarez package, hopefully for years to come. Maybe our bats really are resting and saving the big barrage for October “Bregman” baseball! And who knows, maybe Coach Stromboli is intentionally lulling everyone MLB wide into the false hope that our guys are hittable and has a new secret pitch to unveil for each one of his post season bullpen arms. One can hope!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Tonight and tomorrow night….2 lefty’s. I guess we will see on Sunday if Wade Miley has figured it out or not,I’m crossing my fingers that he has. That was one of the most pitiful games last night I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable.

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  18. So far, Mr. Tucker has given us 27 PAs.

    – In 1/3 of those PAs [9 PAs] he has struck out.
    – In only one of those PAs he has walked. [a 9/1 SO/BB ratio].
    -In seven of those PAs he has recorded a hit [BA .269; OBP .296];
    – Of his seven hits, one was a Hr and 3 were DBLs.
    – In his 10 games, which include major offensive blow outs on our side, he has driven in only 5 runs, and scored only 4.

    I understand giving Kyle, who will almost certainly improve with time, and hopefully be a big part of our team’s future, some late game ABs and innings to get him used to the faster pace of the bigs. But when, as now, we are in the midst of a pretty ugly losing streak, looking overmatched every night by mediocre pitching, and playing atrocious baseball, I am not sure why the kid is being given starts over surging Josh Reddick [.370/434 over last 15 games].

    Any ideas?

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    • This from McTaggerts column today pretty much says it all.
      “The Astros cut the lead to 3-2 in the eighth on a homer by Jose Altuve, left the bases loaded later in the inning and couldn’t capitalize in the ninth when the first two batters reached. They were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and fell to 0-47 when trailing after eight innings this season. “

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    • Just remember Mr Bill – somebody who scores 5 runs and drives in 4 runs in 27 ABs is on a pace to score 100 and knock in 80 in a full season (540 ABs) of ABs and Reddick ain’t doing that
      Tucker failed with the bases loaded but he has already had some big hits for them this time around
      He hit the heck out of the ball twice in his first at bats and just missed on a couple extra base hits
      I already know what Reddick can and mostly can’t do at bat – don’t mind seeing what Tucker can do

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Maldi gives up a walk (man on 1-2 with one out) to look at duck right down the pipe (SO). Pls help me understand that at bat. Jake gets a knock and no runs or man on 3rd with one out. Sorry for being trivial.

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  20. Round Rock is swept and done for the year. Correa was 1 for 2 with 2 walks tonight.
    Fayetteville lost and they play one game tomorrow for the league championship.

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  21. We finally had to come home after the unearned run due to the catchers error.
    We listened to the game on the way home when George hit the homerun.
    Maybe this will jump start these guys to start taking these last 2 1/2 weeks seriously. I’m going to really miss Garrit Cole next year…he’s been such a joy to have on our team!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. This is the first time in my career I’ve tried to attach an item from another source. So I don’t know if it will work.

    nytimes.com/2019/09/13/sports/baseball/shane-bieber-indians-pitchers.html?action=click&module=Features&pgtype=Homepage

    The Indians are working with a payroll of about 122 million. They’ve got a whole lot of talent at or close to minimum salary and not a lot of long term salary commitment. They have managed to stay relevant while retooling. Is 2020 the year we finally see pitchers from within our system make a big impact?

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  23. There was a story on what it would take to keep Cole which was interesting. In my senility I came remember where I read it. It could have been on this blog for all I know. I do remember that they thought that a contract for the first two years would be low to cover the rest of jv’s contract and then it increases after JV retires. Then we’d have JV, Cole, and Greinke for two more years. Also signing Springer to a LT contract.

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    • Zanuda, I posted my question, timewise, after your comment, but when I posted your comment was not there. So what happened here? Did you answer before I asked? If so, you’re in a different zone.

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      • I also can’t see Yuli going anywhere soon. 8.4 for next year is a bargain. I would think he’s stick around for maybe 2 more years. We lose Reddick and Brantley after next season so there’s two corner outfielders we’ll need to replace. I just don’t think it’s a done deal that Cole won’t be here next year. With Reddick and Brantley gone that’s 29MM. Given we sign Springer to a LT contract (we better), I just think we might have a good shot at Cole. After all, we’re in a great position to contend for the next 5 years, taxes are much lower in Texas, the great fan base, Strom, anf all of those other intangibles. We shall see.

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      • Actually Diane, I’m in the Twilight Zone with Rod Serling. I think I wrote the comment but didn’t hit the post button, then came back later and posted it. Or maybe I was in another dimension.

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  24. I can’t assume Cole will be gone, but I think the biggest challenge in resigning him would not be the money, but the length of any deal. He’s going to want more years than Luhnow is going to want to commit to.

    I think Reddick might be done, but the Astros are going to have to pay part of his salary in order to move him. Jake might go, with a cheaper Straw taking over his role. Smith won’t be around at 8 plus million. Yuli is a tough call, but this is likely his career year.

    I’m pretty sure that our DH won’t suddenly learn how to play first base. He might not ever get there. Maybe Tucker, because he sure does not have an outfield arm. But although I’m somewhat encouraged by his latest cameo, my concern is that he’ll always be a low OBP guy and an unremarkable defender.

    The point of the Times article on the Indians was that they’ve got three rookies in their rotation, all performing. Wouldn’t that make our overall payroll situation so much more manageable?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. My thoughts on your thoughts:
    *Most free agent rankings have Cole listed as the top guy, with him getting an offer higher than Corbin’s. Cole’s agent is Scott Boras. I’m not saying the Astros can’t keep him, but I am saying the chances are slim because of their previous commitments.
    The Astros commitments to Verlander and Greinke may very well be the result of them already knowing Cole was going to test free agency.
    * Don’t rule out another one of the top free agent starting pitchers coming to Houston. None of them are going to get what Cole is going to get, but that doesn’t mean the Astros won’t reel in another good pitcher to go with Verlander, Greinke and McCullers.
    * Unless I’m way off base here. I don’t see the Astros giving Gurriel up. He has been one of the best hitters in baseball since his talk with Carlos Beltran. And his salary drops by another $2 million in 2020, as his glove gets better and better at 1B.
    * This year’s Kyle Tucker is way better in the majors than last year’s. Next year, at the ripe old age of 23, I expect he will be even better. Kyle Tucker is a rookie through the end of the 2019 season. Service-time wise, he’s an infant in the majors. And he’s not learning 1B to become a first baseman necessarily. He’s learning 1B to be of more value to the team.
    * Don’t go to sleep on Abraham Toro. Did you realize he is only one month older than Tucker? They did not add him to the 40-man late in the year after only 79 ABs in AAA for nothing. They really like this guy. He has .4 WAR in only 18 major league games. That is a very pleasant surprise.

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  26. 1OP, I’m big on honest Abe, but true, I’m not sold on Tucker, which is unfair, because he’s hardly had a shot yet. I guess that’s why I called this stint a cameo.

    I do agree on your other four points though. I don’t think we really have a replacement for Yuli right now.

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  27. Just watched the replay from last night and beautiful to see the smile on Verlander’s face over the win, even tho it helped Cole and not him. Love me some George Springer — and Altuve too, even if he can’t figure out base running — heck, I can’t figure out most of life. And with thousands looking on, I’d just have a meltdown and raise a flag. Kyle, I know you would have loved to slam it Thursday night but I also can’t imagine the pressure.

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