Astros look beyond stats in spring auditions

Hinch could ask roster hopefuls to experiment with new pitches

February 24th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Most Major League managers caution against placing too much importance on what occurs during two prominent times on a baseball calendar: Spring Training and September.

Both present audition opportunities for less established players. In Spring Training, obviously, there are jobs to be won. In September, when rosters expand, non-contending teams use this time to evaluate young players fighting for Major League roster spots the following spring, when there are jobs to be won.

The cycle is continuous. It's also often misleading, especially this time of year, when few players on either side -- pitching and hitting -- are anywhere close to midseason form.

But without little else on which to base decisions, spring performances will be a consideration. They're just not going to be the sole consideration.

Astros manager AJ Hinch has repeated this sentiment a few times while fielding questions about personnel -- mostly pitchers -- auditioning for jobs this spring.

"I'm not looking for the best statistics," Hinch said, when asked about Framber Valdez and Josh James, hopefuls for the fifth starter's job. "I'm not looking for the best performance. We're trying to figure out what decision we're going to make -- we want them to do well."

They also may be asked to tinker with "pitch shapes and pitch usage," Hinch said, and to throw some pitches they're not used to. That's where it becomes somewhat unreasonable to base decisions solely based on a pitcher's final line in the box score -- what may look like a bad outing to a casual observer may have simply included some experimentation on behalf of the pitcher, at the request of his coach or manager.

"They might end up giving up a few hits or throwing some pitches they're not used to," Hinch said. "That doesn't eliminate them from the competition."

Valdez throws two innings

After his two-inning outing vs. the Braves on Sunday, Valdez said he understands he'll have to show he has firm command of his fastball this spring if he's going to win the fifth starter spot.

"For me to be able to focus, not only focus when I'm practicing and when I'm working, but also in-game, is extremely important," he said. "Because if I don't do it, I won't be able to get that spot."

Valdez, who is competing with James and Brad Peacock for a spot in the rotation, didn't yield a run vs. the Braves, but he did allow a few runners to reach base, including Ronald Acuna Jr., who drew a leadoff walk, and Ozzie Albies, who followed with a double.

Valdez also hit Raffy Lopez with a pitch to lead off the second.

"Definitely the first pitch, I was off, but after that, I felt good about my command and being around the zone," Valdez said.

Did you know?

As a 34th-round pick, James became the lowest-drafted pitcher in franchise history to make a start for the Astros in the Major Leagues when he debuted on Sept. 1 against the Angels. He surpassed the previous club-record holder, Darryl Kile, who was a 30th-round selection in the 1987 MLB Draft and debuted as a starter on April 24, 1991, against the Reds.

Astros on TV

Sunday's game was televised by AT&T SportsNet Southwest, the first of 10 Spring Training games the network will air. The other nine games on the schedule are Monday vs. Mets; Wednesday at Nationals; Thursday vs. Marlins; March 10 vs. Nationals; March 11 vs. Mets; March 12 at Nationals; March 14 vs. Marlins; March 19 vs. Phillies; March 20 vs. Yankees.

Up next

Monday's game with the Mets will feature Astros starter Justin Verlander, followed on the mound by top prospect Forrest Whitley, and Jose Altuve, who is expected to make his spring debut at designated hitter. The game begins at 1:10 p.m. ET. The Mets are slated to start right-hander Noah Syndergaard.