HOUSTON -- Astros pitching coach Brent Strom joked Tuesday he feels like one of The Flying Wallendas, a group of circus stunt performers who were famous for high-wire acts. After losing starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley and lockdown reliever Will Harris to free agency and being short-handed early in Summer Camp, Strom can relate to working without a net.
With relievers Brad Peacock (right shoulder), Ryan Pressly (right index finger blister) and Austin Pruitt (right elbow inflammation) batting nagging injuries, reliever Joe Smith (family issue) away and presumptive No. 4 starter Jose Urquidy on the injured list for undisclosed reasons, Strom is trying to piece together a pitching staff with varying degrees of difficulty.
“I’m kind of a little bit naked underneath, but I feel confident in the guys we do have,” Strom said Tuesday. “There’s going to be some young guys that are going to excite some people, like [Cristian] Javier. He’s going to be an exciting pitcher for us. I think [Bryan] Abreu is going to be good. I’m excited to see these young bucks. It’s just a different phase of Astros pitching right now.”
The good news is Peacock, Pressly and Pruitt are considered day to day. Peacock, Pruitt and closer Roberto Osuna, who Strom said was late to camp, have yet to throw in an intrasquad game in camp. Pressly was scheduled to pitch on Tuesday, but didn’t. Exactly when Urquidy will be ready, and when or if Smith will report, is unknown.
“I’m fully confident in the guys you haven’t seen, like Peacock and Pruitt and Osuna, that they’re going to be fine,” Strom said. “If we don’t start [the season] with them, then they will be there eventually. We’re in great shape right now from a pitching standpoint.”
“He kind of tightened things up a little bit,” he said. “I’ve monitored every one of his bullpens he’s thrown when he was down in Florida. It’s not going to be a slow walk with Josh James. He’s built up to four innings, and I think that’s where we’ll see him the first time out. If he has a good four, we may extend him to five.”
The fifth spot in the rotation could now be lefty Framber Valdez’s to lose. He appeared in 26 games (eight starts) for the Astros last year and posted a 5.86 ERA while struggling with his control. Strom said he’s looked exceptional so far in camp and is buying into his stock.
“His stuff is electric, his bullpens have been great,” Strom said. “When Mike Trout says he has the best stuff on our staff, that means something to me.”
Strom said he would need 15 or 16 pitchers from among the 30 roster spots the team will be allowed to start the season, because some relievers will be called upon to throw multiple innings in games while the starters get built up. That’s where the kids could come in to fill in some innings.
About half of the players on the Astros’ Top 30 prospects list by MLB Pipeline are pitchers, and several of those are in the team’s 56-man player pool to start the year, including Forrest Whitley (No. 1), Urquidy (No. 2), Abreu (No. 5), Javier (No. 6), Brandon Bielak (No. 12) -- all of whom could see big-league time this year. Beyond that, Enoli Paredes (No. 13), Jojanse Torres (No. 19), Brett Conine (No. 26) and Nivaldo Rodriguez (No. 29) represent the next wave.
“There’s going to be some surprises here,” Strom said. “It’s going to be important for those guys that when perhaps when we’re having a down game or we’re way up, they’ll give us the innings that Pressly, Osuna, [Chris Devenski] and [Cy] Sneed give us and give those kind of people a day off to prepare for a closer and tight game.”