Rotation hopeful Peacock perfect in debut

Longest-tenured Astros pitcher retires all six batters

February 28th, 2019

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- is as steady as they come. He’s typically at his locker every morning, keeping to himself or playing cards. Peacock welcomes conversation from reporters, but he certainly doesn’t seek the spotlight. He is as low-key as vanilla ice cream.

That has been the same routine for Peacock over the last seven years, though his status on the Astros has fluctuated wildly over that time. After battling injuries and bouncing between the big leagues and Minors from 2013-16, Peacock’s breakout '17 season hasn’t changed his demeanor. And when reminded recently he is now the longest-tenured pitcher on the Astros, Peacock looked around in disbelief.

“It’s crazy,” Peacock said. “All my friends are gone.”

Coming off a season in which he appeared in a career-high 61 games (60 in relief), Peacock is in the familiar position of battling for a spot. Not a spot on the club -- the right-hander is as much of a lock as any Astros pitcher not named Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole -- but a spot in the rotation. Peacock made his Grapefruit League debut in Thursday's 7-5 win over the Marlins at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and retired all six batters he faced.

“I’m going to try to go out there and just do my job,” Peacock said. “Whatever happens, happens. Like I said before, I’m just happy to be here on this team. It’s a great team, and I’m excited.”

Peacock and left-hander Framber Valdez -- he’ll start on Friday against the Cardinals -- are the top candidates for the fifth-rotation slot behind Verlander, Cole, Collin McHugh and newcomer Wade Miley. Peacock, 31, excelled as a starter in 2017, going 10-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 21 starts after beginning the season as an effective reliever.

“I do like starting, yeah,” Peacock said. “I did it my whole career pretty much. I’m just more comfortable, I think, starting, but we’ll see. I love the bullpen, too.”

With the rotation stocked a year ago, Peacock worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen and struggled at times, posting a 3.46 ERA and allowing 11 homers in only 65 innings. He was left off the postseason roster.

Earlier in camp, Astros manager AJ Hinch asked his coaching staff whether the team was undervaluing Peacock’s impact in the competition for a starting-rotation spot. That was before Josh James strained his quad and was eliminated from rotation consideration to start the year; Peacock’s chances of getting the fifth spot have increased.

“He’s so quiet and so under the radar a little bit,” Hinch said. “I don’t want to say he’s not noticeable because we know exactly what he’s doing. Look at the strikeout numbers [13.3 per nine innings]. They’re huge. You look at what he did as a starter a couple of seasons ago: He ended up closing in the World Series for a game. He can do a lot of different things.”

Peacock has added a changeup to his repertoire this year that he plans to throw more to left-handed hitters. His slider has been a huge weapon in previous years, but in 2018 it blended with the curveball a little too much. If he can get it ironed out this spring, he’ll be a weapon for the Astros -- however they decide to use him.

“He’s easy to manage, easy to coach, easy to like, easy to root for,” Hinch said. “That’s what you wish for drawing up the makeup and the approach of doing whatever it takes. That’s not a lack of competitiveness or a lack of fire, but it’s a great trait.”