The Astros rotation heading from 2020 into the beginning of 2021 has been a mathematical equation in flux between additions and subtractions.
- In only 60 games in 2021, the Astros used 10 starters. Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, Brandon Bielak, Josh James, Chase DeJong and Luis Garcia
- Verlander’s Tommy John surgery removed him from the beginning and likely the whole of 2021 – down to 9 starters
- Josh James’ hip surgery took him out of any consideration for being a starter – down to 8 starters
- Chase DeJong is long gone – down to 7 starters
- Brandon Bielak and Luis Garcia were not going to be considered as long as Greinke, McCullers, Valdez, Javier and Urquidy – down to the 5 starters who were the best at the end of 2020
- Valdez in his first spring training start breaks a finger on a comebacker and is out for at least a little while and perhaps a long while – down to 4 starters
- Jake Odorizzi is signed to a free agent contract that “has nothing to do with Framber’s injury”….color us cynical – up to five starters
- Ten days after his signing was announced and only two weeks before the first game of the season, Odorizzi has not appeared in an exhibition game and the notes leaking from the team state he will likely not be ready for the start of the season – back down to four starters.
Now there has been some discussion that with three off days the first few weeks of the season, the team can get by with only 4 starters. That is not quite true as the Astros start the season playing six games in six days and unless they decided to start someone on short rest (not going to happen) they will need at least five starters the first time through. After that, they could get by with four starters until April 22 which will be the fifth day out of 13 straight days of games. Hopefully, by that time they would have Odorizzi back and ready to join the rotation.
Here are some thoughts about the start of the season….
- The gut feeling is that the 5th starter will come from a foursome of 40 man roster pitchers – Brandon Bielak, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Brian Abreu or Luis Garcia. Considering they gave Garcia a playoff start, that might give a hint about where they are headed, but he had a delayed start to Spring Training and Rodriguez has pitched pretty well this spring.
- Looking around the majors, the Astros are not the only team easing their pitchers towards Opening Day. It is likely that a lot of teams, including the Astros, do not want to burn up their pitching in ST when no one pitched many innings in 2020. The way teams keep their pitcher’s ramp-up in innings reasonable in 2021 may be the “story” of the season.
- Here’s betting that at least for the early season, the Astros go with a 14 pitcher / 12 position player mix of the 26 man roster. They will be needing a lot of relief help in these games.
- Another good bet is that there will be a lot of roster movement up and down for the Astros, who have a lot of players with the flexibility to be moved. You may see situations where these long relievers/ spot starters at the end of the bullpen are used in an extended manner in a game or two and then are swapped out for another similar talent from the minors to fill the long relief/spot starter role for a week or two.
How the Astros handle their rotation, especially early in the season will be a critical point to watch this season.