After retuning from the All-Star break, the Astros struggled to find the right combination of pitching to make up for shortcomings thanks to injuries. They tried to stick with Framber Valdez, which did not work. They tried an "opener" for the first time ever. Also, a fail. They were even without pitchers they considered their best options because their minor league stints had not been long enough since their last starts at the major league level.
So, they went to a pair of youngsters with a combined 15 innings of major league experience and were rewarded with two outstanding performances just when they needed them. First, Jose Urquidy, 24, pitched 7 innings allowing only 1 run on 2 hits and striking out 9. On Sunday, Rogelio Armenteros, 25, went 5 innings, giving up 1 run on 2 hits and striking out 6, completing the three-game sweep of the Rangers.
The two pitchers went 12 innings combining for 4 hits, 2 runs and 15 strikeouts. Most importantly, they got both wins.
Also, it gave the Astros some breathing room heading into this week's showdown against the second-placed A's. With five straight wins, the Astros lead over Oakland grew to six-and-a-half games. In a three game set at Minute Maid beginning Monday, the 'Stros will match their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley (though not in that order) against the A's.
As good as they were, it is unlikely Uriquidy and Armenteros will suddenly become rotation regulars, but given the bad luck the Astros have had with injuries to the pitching staff, the performance by the rookie duo came at just the right time and will give the team at least a few days to decide who will be up next.
Don't be surprised if that help comes from outside the organization. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and the Astros are expected to be active buyers on the market for both a starter and perhaps a bullpen arm. Brad Peacock should also be back in a few weeks from the rehab of his sore pitching shoulder.
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That doesn't even account for the bats that will be available by the end of the week including Aledmys Diaz (probably Monday or Tuesday) and Carlos Correa (probably Friday). Not only will they help a team that continues to hit well in their absence, but Correa and Diaz add much needed options in the infield.
If the Astros are able to add an arm to the starting rotation and get Peacock back, they would appear in good shape as the playoffs approach. But, they shouldn't forget about their rookies.
It may have only been two games, but those were pivotal wins if you can consider anything in July pivotal. They helped to stave off losses against an inferior team and protected the bullpen, which had been brutally overworked in recent days.
Uriquidy and Armenteros may not get many more starts this season (if any), but if the Astros make a deep run in the playoffs, they can point to performances like these that keep them winning at a time when pitching was at a premium.