Absences muddle back end of Astros' rotation

July 8th, 2020

HOUSTON -- With two of his five possible starting pitchers yet to report to camp -- right-handers Jose Urquidy and Josh James -- Astros manager Dusty Baker said it’s too early to tell what his rotation will look like beyond Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. when the regular season begins on July 24 against the Mariners.

Urquidy, who posted a 3.95 ERA in nine games and made his MLB debut last season, has yet to report for undisclosed reasons. Baker said Sunday that the hard-throwing James hadn’t reported because of a family matter. When Spring Training was shut down on March 12, Urquidy was believed to be the club’s fourth starter and James was in strong standing in a battle for the fifth spot with Austin Pruitt and Framber Valdez.

As camp progressed, rookie Bryan Abreu emerged as a legitimate candidate for the fifth spot as well, but Baker wasn’t ready to handicap it on Tuesday.

“We really haven’t seen everybody, laid eyes on everybody,” Baker said. “Time is of the essence. We’re hoping that we do have time. If we don’t, then we got to make adjustments for where we are. You've got things in pencil, but half the guys that are in pencil aren’t even here yet. I hate to tell you we don’t know, but in essence, we have to wait for everybody to get here and see what kind of shape they’re in.”

Baker was hopeful that all four players who had to yet to report -- Urquidy, James, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and veteran reliever Joe Smith -- were going to be with the club on Opening Day.

“I’m still counting on them, but you’ve got to go on as if they’re not here and get the guys ready who are here,” he said. “And when they do come here, we’ll see where they are.”

Pressly ‘game ready’

Right-hander Ryan Pressly, who was an All-Star last season after finishing off the longest scoreless streak in Major League history (40 games) and was later derailed by knee surgery, threw live batting practice Tuesday for the first time in two weeks. He said after that he’s ready to go.

“We’re a couple of weeks away, so I think everybody is kind of getting arms in shape and trying to maneuver around everything that’s happening,” Pressly said.

In the 3 1/2 months while camp was shut down, Pressly was throwing and staying in game shape near his home in Grapevine, Texas, and he threw live batting practice to Major Leaguers Chris Davis, Jonathan Lucroy and Trevor Story among others.

“We had a bit of a game going on when we were there, kind of like everybody else was doing,” he said. “That’s how I mainly stayed ready. It was one of those things I didn’t know how we were going to do, but I have to be able to keep my arm in shape. This is going to be a short [Summer Camp] and I’ll have to get ramped up pretty quickly.”

Pressly, who was working on his curveball Tuesday, said he felt some panic in February and March when his mechanics were out of sorts. He said felt physically fine after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Aug. 22.

“I guess with the quarantine break, I had some time to do what I needed to do to be ready, but everything is finally in sync and I’m ready for the season to start,” he said.

Astros eyeing intrasquad games, exhibitions

Baker said that Astros general manager James Click was working to try to schedule some exhibition games at the end of camp, which would mean either the Astros traveling to another city to play another team, or having an opposing team coming to Minute Maid Park. Teams may schedule up to three exhibition games.

“It takes two to tango,” Baker said. “We’ve contacted a few clubs. We’re waiting to hear back from a couple of them. Whether they come here or we go there or whatever, James Click is working tirelessly to try to secure something. A lot of things are up in the air for a lot of people. James is in the process of trying to do that.”

The Astros could play some intrasquad games this weekend. Baker said Verlander and Greinke, who have yet to throw live batting practice, would rather jump right into game situations. McCullers threw live batting practice Friday.

“They’d rather [have] more of an adrenaline game where they go to the mound and sit down and make it as close to a game situation as you can get,” he said. “They’re not going to have many of these before they start.”