Peacock solid again, despite allowing first ERs

Right-hander is frontrunner for final spot in Astros' starting rotation

March 16th, 2019

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- 's spotless spring track record took a small hit on Saturday, but his chances to lock down the fifth starter’s role remain as strong as they ever were after another impressive outing.

“His curveball was the best it’s been this spring,” manager AJ Hinch said. “As a potential starter, it’s going to be an effective pitch for him against lefties. I thought he was good.”

Peacock was touched for his first earned runs of the spring during the third inning of the Astros’ 13-5 win against the Phillies. After the righty skirted trouble in the second frame, caught him for an off-the-wall double to left in the third and followed with a two-run homer to the same side.

Peacock made sure that’s all the Phillies got from him, though. He retired the side in order in the fourth before hitting the showers following an otherwise stellar four-inning outing. He scattered five hits with zero walks and five strikeouts -- and took another step forward toward the regular season.

“It’s been a while since I’ve thrown four innings,” he said. “I felt really good out there. I just want to keep building off that, keep pounding the zone like I did today. My slider is getting a little better, and I’m just trying to get that pitch back.”

, Peacock’s competition for the final rotation spot, is slated to start Sunday against the Braves. Valdez has struggled at points this spring, pitching to a 5.79 ERA in four games (three starts). Most recently, the left-hander allowed three runs on six hits against the Mets on Monday.

With where he is after four Grapefruit League outings, Peacock said he isn’t worried about the competition so much as he is putting himself in the best possible position for success in 2019 and beyond.

“I threw a lot of bullpens this offseason, trying to get ready because I knew I was going to be competing for a starter’s job," he said. "Just tried to get locked in at the beginning of spring, and I’m feeling pretty good so far.”

James earmarked to start … eventually

Fireballer Josh James intended to challenge for the fifth starter’s role this spring until he sustained a right quad strain on Feb. 24. While it’s likely the right-hander will still break camp with the big league club as a reliever, Hinch hinted that situation could change.

“We think [James] is a starter this season at some point,” Hinch said. “And in order to do that, I’m going to have to not fall into the trap of only using him in one-inning outings.”

James, the Astros' No. 4-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, worked the fifth inning against the Phillies, walking one and allowing one hit in his first big league Spring Training appearance. The plan is for James to rest two days then pitch two innings in his next outing.

“[He looked] really good,” Hinch said. “He got to do a little bit of everything. The two-out walk ended up being OK because he had to build his pitches up. He had to cover first even though they didn’t flip it to him, which sounds trivial, but coming off a leg injury, it was good.

“Velocity was in the mid-to-upper 90s, so that’s encouraging. It was just good to see him on the field.”

Diaz to DH

's bat has been slow to warm up this spring, but the small sample he’s shown since joining the Astros in an offseason trade won’t speak louder than his 2018 season.

In fact, Hinch said it’s Diaz’s bat that’s made the biggest impression, causing the Houston skipper to reveal that he will likely use the infielder as a designated hitter “a little more than I think people realize.”

“I’m going to have to find ways to get him in the lineup,” Hinch added. “He’s got -- I don’t want to say surprising power, because he hit 18 home runs last year -- but he’s just got a good swing. He’s a good offensive player.”

Up next

The Astros wrap up their weekend with a 12:05 p.m. CT game on Sunday against the Braves in Kissimmee. Valdez is slated to start for Houston, while Atlanta will counter with right-hander .