A recent trend in pitching in baseball has been the "opener," a starting pitcher that goes maybe an inning or two before handing over the ball to a reliever, who is typically designated as the primary pitcher. It's typically stopgap measure used when a team feels like they have a better reliever with limited range than a starter who can eat up innings. The Astros, thanks to great depth, have avoided the need to go with an opening pitcher...until now.
On Monday in Anaheim, Josh James pitched the first inning followed by a badly struggling Framber Valdez who surrendered 7 runs (4 earned) in his four innings of work. It is very likely his last opportunity as a starter this season as his recent starts have been brutal.
Still, with injuries to starters and potential call-ups as well as guys who must spend ten days in the minors having only been down a week, it leaves the Astros in a very difficult position.
The top and back end of their pitching has been stellar, but there is a whole lot of middle that needs to be filled out. Fortunately, the bats have come alive and it appears both Carlos Correa and Aledmys Diaz are on the way back to the lineup in the next couple weeks.
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But, with Brad Peacock back on the shelf with a shoulder injury and Colin McHugh permanently relegated to the bullpen — a spot where he excelled last season and could again this year — the Astros have only three starting pitchers in the rotation remaining from spring training and a cast of characters attempting to fill out the bottom two spots.
With the trade deadline approaching, general manager Jeff Luhnow has openly admitted they are actively seeking at least one starter and another reliever. And though they have over two weeks left to find options, given the long division-heavy road trip, they may need to act sooner rather than later.
In some ways, it has been a tale of two seasons. Early in the year, most of the injuries came at the expense of the lineup, not the rotation. The Astros hung in there without their best bats (save Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley) for extended periods. But unlike the guys at the plate, there is no Yourdan Alvarez waiting in the wings to save the pitching rotation. That will have to come from outside the organization.
The irony is if they are able to add a quality arm to the rotation and another to the bullpen, they could go rather quickly from a pitching mess to one of the better staffs in baseball, but they will need to do something quick before their AL West lead starts shrinking as their team ERA blows up.