Javier's impressive start a balm after loss

July 30th, 2020

HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander’s forearm injury, requiring a multi-week stay on the injured list, opened up a huge hole in the Astros’ starting rotation. The last thing the banged-up Astros need is another pitching injury, but out of adversity comes opportunity.

, the team’s No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, took Verlander’s spot in the rotation Wednesday night and dazzled by allowing one run and two hits while striking out eight batters in 5 2/3 innings in a 4-2, 13-inning loss to the Dodgers at Minute Maid Park.

“I felt good,” Javier said after throwing 82 pitches (54 strikes) against a deep lineup. “I felt good and I really was focused on locating my pitches so I really didn’t have time to think about nerves or anything like that.”

Javier, 23, made his Major League debut in Saturday’s win over the Mariners, throwing a scoreless inning. He is one of seven Astros players to make their debuts already this year, which is largely the result of injuries. Javier couldn’t have imagined in March he’d get this kind of opportunity considering he’d only pitched in two games above the Double-A level in his career.

Last year, the Astros named Javier their Minor League Pitcher of the Year after he led all of the Minors with a 1.74 ERA, 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a .130 opponents’ batting average (minimum 110 innings). The strikeout stuff was on display from the start, when he needed 13 pitches to whiff Max Muncy, Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger in succession in the first.

“He had great composure and control,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He made his pitches when he needed to make them against some very tough hitters. Especially the left-handed hitters that they had in their lineup. He changes speeds effectively. I thought [catcher Martín] Maldonado guided him through, which is a catcher’s job. He did outstanding and we’re all happy for him. We just wish we had won the ballgame.”

Javier hides the ball well and relies on a curveball he threw 27 times against the Dodgers and a fastball he threw 47 times that averaged 92.6 mph and hit 95.5, according to Statcast. He also threw his changeup, which has a good sink, eight times.

“I feel proud of my performance today and also for the support the whole coaching staff is giving me,” Javier said. “That kind of confidence in me helps me go out and focus and do a good job because I know they’re behind me when I’m on the mound.”

The first time through the Dodgers order, Javier threw 34 pitches (25 strikes) with six strikeouts, no walks and one hit, which was a second-inning home run by Corey Seager. The second time through the lineup, he threw 34 pitches (20 strikes) with one walk and no hits.

He was pulled after allowing two batters to reach with one out and getting Mookie Betts to fly out in the sixth. Betts went 0-for-3 against him.

“I was definitely starting to get a little bit tired there at the end, but I knew I had enough left in the tank to get him out and thank God I was able to do it,” he said.