Abreu seals spot on Opening Day roster

March 27th, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Astros pitcher said following his outing Saturday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie that he was informed he was going to make the Opening Day roster. Abreu, who struck out three batters and allowed two runs on three hits in the Astros' 8-3 loss, said manager Dusty Baker told him earlier in the day he made the club as a reliever.

“It made me excited,” the 23-year-old said.

Abreu, the Astros’ No. 14 prospect per MLB Pipeline, began camp as a long shot to make the team, but some unexpected openings on the pitching staff created more opportunities.

Starting pitcher Framber Valdez broke his left ring finger on March 2, veteran reliever Pedro Báez missed time following a COVID-19 diagnosis and is delayed in his return, and reliever Andre Scrubb suffered a sore right shoulder and was shut down from throwing for a week.

What’s more, veteran right-hander Steve Cishek, who was on a Minor League deal, asked for and received his release on Thursday. The club signed starter Jake Odorizzi on March 9, but he won’t be ready to start the season, either.

“He’s throwing the ball well,” Baker said. “We didn’t just put him on the team. He pitched his way on the team, and he is this year where we hoped he was last year at this time. He wasn’t ready [last year], but this is a new year and he’s conditioned himself and worked himself back into shape and is on the team.”

Abreu, 23, reported to last year’s summer workouts at Minute Maid Park out of shape following a COVID-19 diagnosis. He only appeared in four games for the Astros in 2020 and allowed 10 of the 20 batters he faced to reach base and saw his stock drop. Abreu reported to camp in much better shape this year. In 10 1/3 innings in Grapefruit League play, he allowed five earned runs, struck out nine and walked two.

“Just be consistent and execute pitches,” Abreu said. “That’s the main thing I worked on this spring.”

Abreu’s control problems have been an issue, but he has a pair of power breaking balls that could be huge weapons in relief. Because he’s built up his pitch count (he threw 49 pitches Saturday), he would also provide length out of the bullpen, which will be important in a year when pitching depth is going to be tested.

The confirmation that Abreu is going to be on the roster likely sets the Astros’ pitching staff four days before Opening Day. Baker announced Zack Greinke, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr. and José Urquidy would start the first four games. The fifth starting spot is between Luis Garcia and Brandon Bielak, with the other headed to the bullpen.

The eight-man bullpen appears to be set: Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith, Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley (lefty), Ryne Stanek, Blake Taylor (lefty), Abreu and either Garcia or Bielak.