How Houston developed plethora of elite arms

Astros pitching coaches 'not surprised' at staff's success

June 1st, 2022

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart's Astros newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Remember when former pitching coach Brent Strom announced after Game 6 of the World Series that he was leaving and everyone wondered how the pitching staff would perform in his absence? It turns out the Astros’ pitching talent remains elite and their pitching philosophy hasn’t skipped a beat.

Entering Tuesday, the Astros ranked second in the Major Leagues in team ERA at 2.86 and were tied for the lead with seven shutouts (through 49 games). Houston’s bullpen had the best ERA in baseball at 2.48 and had thrown the fifth-fewest innings, which is a testament to how deep the starters have been working into games.

One of the reasons Strom said he was comfortable leaving the Astros was because he believed the two younger pitching coaches who worked under him -- Josh Miller and Bill Murphy -- were more than capable of replacing him. Miller isn’t surprised the pitching hasn’t missed a beat.

“I think they outperformed overall expectations,” Miller said. “But being around these guys close for the last handful of years, you know what they’re capable of. They’re very skilled and really good pitchers. I’m not surprised at how well we’re doing, and, hopefully, we can keep it up.”

So … can they? The biggest factor will be health going forward and not letting the occasional bad outing fester into a pitching slump.

“The game will humble you in a heartbeat,” Miller said. “You’ve got to stay focused and keep working and always get a little bit better. Overall, if we throw strikes and execute pitches, we’re going to be good.”

What makes the quality work of the pitching even more incredible is the absence of , who was the Astros’ best starter a year ago and has been out all year. returned after missing last year following Tommy John surgery and is a Cy Young Award candidate, and lefty might be in the mix, too. Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier have proven to be solid mid-rotation arms. got off to a terrible start but turned his season around before going on the injured list two weeks ago.

Valdez, who threw a complete game Monday in Oakland, entered Tuesday leading the AL in innings pitched, and Verlander was tied for fifth. Garcia threw a career-high 171 innings last year, including the postseason, and is on pace to eclipse that mark. Javier also could reach a career high in innings.

“Those are things we can keep an eye on,” Miller said. “We have a pretty good handle on the day to day, and we can adjust as needed. But there’s no hard cap on innings or anything like that.”

Miller said there is no secret sauce that’s the reason the pitching has been superb. The Astros stress getting ahead in counts, limiting hard contact and putting away hitters. So far, so great.

“They all have exceptional weapons, and they’re using them well,” Miller said. “It’s fun to see.”