Next men up: Astros’ pitching scenarios

Well, this happened quickly….the Astros’ fans had barely adjusted to the news that Jose Urquidy, who was pulled from his start Sunday due to shoulder discomfort, followed by being put on the IL Monday afternoon then the next domino seemed to fall. Brandon Bielak had barely joined the club as a replacement for Urquidy when he was thrust into the first inning of Tuesday’s win over the Giants in place of Luis Garcia, who had discomfort in his elbow.

Now, as someone over on the crawfish boxes commented today – elbow discomfort is code for headed to Tommy John surgery. Hopefully not, but one has to wonder if Garcia, with his “new” windup without the Texas two-step, threw out his arm trying to match the velocity he got with his rock-a-baby approach.

So what scenarios are the Astros facing?

Two “Minor” Injuries – The joke is that minor injuries are ones that occur to someone else. But let’s assume both Urquidy and Garcia just need a couple weeks’ rest and can come back in about a month. What does that look like? With the Astros continuing to have Thursdays off through May, they could theoretically pitch their three established starters (Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown) with 4 days rest and just add Bielak to the rotation and call it a day until June. However… this point they probably don’t want to put extra strain on any of those three crucial starters. So, they will likely add another starter to the mix.

They could move one of their long men, Seth Martinez or Ronel Blanco, into that fifth starter spot. But neither one has been performing well or are stretched out. Martinez has not pitched more than 2.1 innings in any outing and is sporting a 6.35 ERA with a 1.853 WHIP, while Blanco has topped out at 2 innings with a 4.91 ERA and 1.818 WHIP. If they were going to pick one of these two, it would need to be Blanco who has a 13.1 K/ 9IP going for him and actually looked like a potential starter in some fine spring training performances.

Their other choice would be to bring up J.P. France or Forrest Whitley, who are both on the 40-man roster. France has been outpitching Whitley (2.33 ERA vs. 6.00 ERA), but does have a 5.1 walk/ 9 IP rate to worry about. But he would seem to be the choice. If they went a different direction, other choices at AAA who are not on the 40-man are Shawn Dubin (4.32 ERA) and Bryan Garcia (9.22 ERA). Garcia has some MLB experience but is pitching poorly so far.

The best guess here would be to try and stretch Blanco out and have France slide into his long-man slot.

One and One – So what if one of the injured pitchers can return in one month and the other one is gone for the season? Short term it would probably look a lot like the previous scenario. The hope would be that someone grabs the spot that will be open for the rest of the season and runs with it. Or if they can only be adequate until Lance McCullers Jr. comes back in June, July, and August….

But it is possible that the spot turns into a dumpster fire, and LMJ shows no signs of returning. Well, they could throw one of their other internal options at it once someone fails. But they would have to start looking outside for help, which they did in two of their most successful seasons – 2017 and 2019.

The problem is that this early in the season, there just are not many options. The teams that are really struggling have few players that you would want and everyone else who is within a shout of the leaders in their division is not going to be trading pitching talent.

It feels like they would fill from within until they at least get through June and start looking for outside help at that point.

Watership Down – Now if both Urquidy and Garcia are headed to the surgeon, this becomes a lot tougher question, especially if LMJ is not on the horizon to return. This may be the time when the team says – we will find out what we have with Mr. X and Mr. Y (France and Whitley?) and let them just run as far as they can. It feels like they would not trade for two starting pitchers unless some extraordinary opportunity showed up, but they would likely look at trading for additional help sometime between now and the deadline – the sooner, the better.

So, what are your thoughts on the different scenarios presented?


35 comments on “Next men up: Astros’ pitching scenarios

  1. Let’s see what France and Whitely has. There is also 23 year old Rhett Kouba who is in Corpus Christi and has shown some solid numbers in the 2+ years in the minors.


  2. Unlike last year there is no Hunter Brown waiting in the wings to call up. There is not a single pitcher in the system that has started the year making any kind of case to be the Astros’ ‘next man up’. As you pointed out, every one of our in-house options have looked pretty horrible to start to the season. Meanwhile, with nobody but Frenchy producing consistently on offense, we are going to need all our starters to keep the opposition down to a couple runs a game at most. Quite frankly, with a potential stand-in crew consisting of Bielak, France, Blanco, Martinez, Whitley, and Dubin, we’ll be lucky if we give their games to the bullpen down less than 5 runs. Thanks a lot, WBC!

    Unsigned free agents? Trades? Something is going to have to give – or by the time Altuve and McCullers get back we’ll be in a hole so deep that we’ll wind up being sellers at the deadline instead of buyers.


  3. Twitter rumors say lefty reliever Matt Gage is on his way to Houston. That probably means they are looking at stretching out either Blanco or Martinez.


  4. Of the internal options only France is intriguing. Bielak, Whitley and Blanco have all been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective their entire careers. Seth pitched better than xFIP until this year, but it’s caught up to him. Maybe an early trade with the Whitesox or another early disappointment.


  5. I think the replacements for Garcia and Urquidy should come from the offense. There are a lot of hitters who need to be playing better and have been protected by the starting pitching keeping games close thus far. Bregman and Abreu can start to earn some of those contracts. Maldonado can either hit like a major leaguer or let Diaz have a try. My concern is having healthy starting pitching for October. If we have season ending injuries you can make the move in June/July to ensure there are quality options available for the stretch and postseason.


  6. First of all, it’s not the end of the world just yet. We’ve still got 3 excellent starters. We’ve got an excellent pen. We’ve also got an offense that will get better one of these days.

    I’m not sure what the deal might be with Gage, but he was exclusively a starter from 2015-2018, with mixed results, and he was an innings eater. When he came back in 2021 he produced better results as a reliever.

    Blanco and Martinez have not inspired so far. But they’ll get a chance.

    Seems like France and Whitley will also get a call sooner than later. Weird splits on Whitley.

    Bases empty

    Runners on

    Maybe he’s just spaced out on the mound until he walks the leadoff man or gives up a bit it.


  7. Just a curiosity comment. If we have to go to the open market I’d look at Dylan Cease. The Whitesox certainly don’t look like contenders and might be open to a trade. Of course there’s the question, “who do we trade”? At this time we’ve got to manny out fielders but you never know when that might change. Just a thought.

    But it wouldn’t be an issue if a couple of our guys would start hitting because they sure ain’t cutting the mustard at this point.


    • I’m not sure we have enough prospects to swing that, but I’m also thinking Manfred would find a way to void the deal.


  8. I don’t know how many strikes our pitchers have thrown tonight that have not been called. Worst umpiring job this side of Angel Hernandez and Joe West.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Tonight’s game was a pure example of an all around cluster….

    Bad umpiring, Zero offense for the most part. It’s time for somebody to get PO’d. It sure ain’t our manager. I am not a Dusty fan so I thought I’d make that clear. Bregman has no business hitting second, Abreu in the 4 spot. I actually thought Hunter was going to say something to the Umpire. I wish he had because maybe it would have fired the guys up. They’re about as lethargic as a team can be.

    Other than that everything is just wonderful (NOT).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Brown had to really battle last night when he did not have his command. But he sure got squeezed, over and over. He came pretty close to losing his cool at the end. Better off he got out of there. Otherwise you end up with an ump that will just screw him next time.

    I don’t know what happened at the end of the game. Looked like the Giants called time and did not have one to call. I’d like to hear the explanation on that.

    Once a week when I see Diaz get a shot to play, I’m encouraged. He already knows what he’s doing behind the plate. He will continue to hit. And he’s smart on the bases too, even as he lacks speed. As we are poised to see a new starter or two, will he get two shots a week catching?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blummer and TK were singing Diaz’s praises last night. He needs to be playing at least 3 out of 7 games but that is unlikely since Dusty has a man crush on Maldy. Maybe he’s playing Maldy so much that he’ll be unable to play come August/September. I’m just so frustrated over this but I doubt anybody notices (lol).

      I too would like to know what was going on with that last play.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Diaz does everything better than Machete right now – he just doesn’t have the experience. But at some point more experience translates to declining play due to age.
        I was thinking on that last play that perhaps he was claiming problems with his electronic pitch communicator – its the only thing I could think of.


    • Welcome Kelly – yes great point and even though Altuve suffered the injury in the WBC – I think there can be more problems with the pitchers having to ramp up so fast so early
      And like you say – short off-season for our guys in the first place.


  11. Might be of interest to some. Brantley was 3 for 4 with two doubles and a BB last night for Sugarland. He played LF.
    JJ Matijevic went 5 for 6 with 8 RBIs at 1B as Sugarland finally won a game.


  12. Framber is 2-4 with a 2.60 ERA. Kind of a shame that a guy has got to throw all goose eggs to avoid a loss.

    I don’t know if we can afford to sit Julks and Diaz in order to give Hensley a few DH swings in the 8th slot right now.

    The good news: Excellent discussion with Dana Brown on Sports Talk 790 this morning. He confirmed that Diaz is ahead of Lee. Said he looks like he’s going to be the future for us behind the plate. And, at some point, I’m sure he’s going to be mixed into the lineup a bit more…..

    I wonder how Dana and Dusty are working together?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sugarland lost 22-4.
    Corpus Christi lost 3-0.
    Asheville lost 10-6.
    Fayetteville lost 12-5. They gave up 12 runs on only six hits. They walked 12 batters and committed 4 errors, threw 10 wild pitches, committed a balk, and hit 2 batters.


  14. Notes on the last few games – Diaz has had no trouble behind the plate going after runners. He has been ever as good at Maldy at throwing them out. The times on his throws, the velocity on them and the location have all been spot on. Kudos to Dave – you told us months ago that he had been good at throwing out runners at one point – it’s there.

    Now his pitch framing leaves a little out. I definitely see his effort at selling the pitch but it has been a problem not only in Hunter’s start but in a few others. The pitch that Hunter got aggravated on, which was actually the 2-2 breaking ball, was not a strike. He can be aggravated about it but if it went to electronic zone, it missed by a lace. Diaz just couldn’t get the sell – and the 3-2 pitch misses by a foot and bam he is out of the game.

    Diaz is clearly a good hitter. The results haven’t been what we want because of his playing time, but you can see that he can hit. That said, Maldy is still better for these pitchers. He sells better, and we have a lot of guys that use the edge of the zone. I might make that move to 4/2 instead of 5/1, get Diaz in a little more, and I might start pushing Diaz out in late innings (7th or later) where our offense has been punchless, but Maldy will (and should) catch more innings. He has been under .200 the entire time in Houston, and we have been winning – it’s the rest of the offense that needs to figure this out. As long as we are carrying 3 catchers I don’t see why Diaz isn’t DH 2 times a week as well.

    I would love for Bregman and Abreu to start earning it. Bregs caught one last night and hit a decent pitch out. If I am shaking anything up I am going to move Abreu down to 6, and start sitting him 2 times a week. I would leave Bregman alone but he needs to start being more consistent.

    Garcia/Urquidy – pitching always needs depth. It’s the one thing I would have addressed in the offseason. Whitley isn’t getting AAA hitters out. He won’t get major leaguers out. France – I like – but it isn’t just this short sample that he has struggled with pitch counts and walks – its a career pattern and he is 28. It doesn’t look like that 18-4 will be replaced in the conglomerate. That is concerning.

    This time last year we were 14-11. We were in the midst of an eleven-game winning streak that didn’t end until we were 22-11. From April 30th to May 13th we played perhaps the best baseball we did all year. We did not give up more than 3 runs in a game in that stretch. We scored at a decent clip but the offense wasn’t lights out. It was just the pitching was. That winning streak started the ride. In the next few weeks we are going to be giving starts to names like Bielek, France, Blanco, and maybe Whitley. We didn’t address the 7th and 8th spots in the offseason, and we are going to spend the summer hoping we can play catchup.


    • That point about the 7th and 8th spots not getting covered is very relevant Steven. The team did not pick up anyone with experience after LMJ went down in the first week of Spring Training.
      They could not know they would lose two more starters this early in the season- but they certainly know it takes 8-10 different starters to get thru the season.
      Whatever people thought of him, bringing in Jake Odorizzi was the move that the team did to address having Framber start on the IL two seasons ago.
      I guess we will see if we have anything in the cupboard.


  15. I know I keep selling Diaz and I’m sure it makes some weary! But a quick peek at Baseball Savant/StatCast has Diaz ranked 24th in MLB and Maldy at 55th in the catcher framing department. I’m a bit surprised actually that Maldy is ranked so low.

    Diaz is green and will get much better. But Maldy’s skills continue to decline. Maybe other stat sites show a different picture. Maybe other catcher-centric stats favor Maldy. But I think at this point, if Maldy is getting calls that could go either way, I think it’s more about his reputation with the umps or the umps giving the benefit of the doubt to Astro pitchers with more tenure.

    As far as what Maldy provides to the pitchers he catches that can’t be reflected in stats, it’s hard to argue that point or count it as gospel. We know what Dusty thinks. And of course anytime we listen to any broadcast we hear what Maldy contributes. I just don’t he’s much of a factor any longer.


    • Hey, I’ll never get tired of selling Diaz. I actually thought about the reputation thing too.

      Diaz’s playing time is probably still too small sample to get a feel for pitch framing numbers. Matter of fact everything I’ve ever read about pitch framing stats suggest they are even more wonky than other things like range factor in short sample. I just know what I saw in Brown’s last start, and noted, though not to what I thought was the extreme in Brown’s start, other times he was catching and didn’t get the call on a close pitch. When you actually pay attention to his motion behind the plate on pitches I like what he does. It’s a fine art that comes with a lot of practice, but he does those subtle pull backs into the zone the right way. A few times I thought he came off the spot he pulled to a half a second early and didn’t give the umpire the confidence to make the call. And he is probably better at throwing out runners right now too.

      There is no doubt he is a better hitter, by far. He is probably a better hitter than Hensley, Julks, and Meyers (and while probably not a better hitter than Abreu, would have produced more in those plate appearances so far) and they are all seeing significant time over him. I just don’t get it.


    • I don’t know and he hasn’t play in a couple of weeks if I recall. Did he piss somebody off or is it something else? Still sitting at 6 games, 24 ABs and a .375 BA. He’s the only guy on the roster listed as a 3rd baseman.

      As for Diaz/Maldy thing, if he only gets to play one out of every 5/6 games we’ll never get to see what he is capable of.


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