HOUSTON -- The tweaks and adjustments 23-year-old Astros starting pitcher Cristian Javier is making as he weaves his way through his first big league season would typically be something he would be doing in the Minor Leagues if 2020 was a normal year.
With numerous injuries to their pitching staff, the Astros have seen Javier make subtle modifications while facing some of the best players in the world. And on Tuesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, he had enough to hold the Angels to three runs and three hits while striking out five batters in 5 2/3 innings in a 6-3 win in Game 1 of a doubleheader.
“I felt good out there,” said Javier, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the team’s No. 5 prospect, through an interpreter. “I felt my pitches were falling when I needed them to be, and I felt I made good adjustments as the game went along.”
The adjustment this time was getting a little bit more behind the ball, because Javier felt like he was cutting off his delivery somewhat. That allowed him to rebound from a rough start Thursday in Colorado in which he gave up three runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.
“Obviously, it’s been a little bit tough to have a learning curve at the big league level,” Javier said, “but I’ve done a good job being able to establish myself and learn all at the same time at this level.”
Javier (3-1) retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit until an RBI single by Jason Castro in the fifth inning. He threw 89 pitches (58 strikes) and got eight swinging strikes on a fastball that averaged 92 mph.
“He was much better,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Javier. “He had a real good changeup, and the ball was coming out hot. Even though the radar wasn’t hot, it looks like the hitters weren’t picking it up. He had a lot of life on it. We took him as far as we could go because they had some dangerous hitters coming up there.”
The Astros sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning and scored five times to give the rookie some early breathing room. After a costly throwing error by Angels starter José Suarez allowed a pair of runs to score, Houston got an RBI single from Josh Reddick and a two-run, bases-loaded single from Jack Mayfield to make it 5-0.
Baker felt the Astros left more runs on the table as the game wore on.
“We’ve been getting the large crooked number in an inning, but we’ve got to add on from there, because they were still within three runs,” Baker said. “A three-run homer and they tie the game on us. We’ve got to get better at the add-on runs and put them away. Just right now, it doesn’t seem like we have the killer instinct to really put them away, but we’ll get it.”
The doubleheader was scheduled after Major League Baseball moved up Thursday’s series finale because of an approaching hurricane. Earlier Tuesday, MLB rescheduled Wednesday’s game between the clubs, leaving Tuesday’s second game as the finale of the series.