_This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
The emotions were getting the best of J.P. France, so he did the wise thing and cut his response short. And what more needed to be said anyway? Getting the call to the big leagues at 28 years old understandably stirred some emotions.
“They’re through the roof,” he said.
After “grinding” through the Minor Leagues, which included a lost season in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, France was told Wednesday by Triple-A Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey he was heading to the big leagues. He flew to Seattle on Thursday and joined the Astros on Friday, one day before he’ll start against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.
“They gave me a good amount of time [to get ready],” France said. “I obviously told my wife, my mom and dad, so they had to keep it quiet for a good bit and they were like, ‘When are they going to release that you’re going up?’ I said, ‘I have no idea, but please don’t say anything.’ It’s been fun.”
The circumstances around France’s promotion were anything but a feel-good story for the Astros, who announced Friday that right-hander Luis Garcia needed to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery. He got injured one day after fellow starting pitcher José Urquidy injured his shoulder Sunday and was placed on the 15-day injured list. He’s been shut down from throwing.
That created some opportunity in Houston’s rotation, with Brandon Bielak getting called up and moving to the rotation. He’ll start Sunday’s series finale in Seattle. And then there’s France, who wasn’t so sure he was going to get his shot considering the starting pitching depth the Astros once had.
“It was going to take something strange to happen,” France said. “It’s unfortunate circumstances for how I got up there, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.”
France spent last season at Triple-A Sugar Land, going 3-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 34 games (15 starts). This season, he’s 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in five games (three starts), with 26 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. He has 447 career strikeouts in 362 1/3 Minor League innings.
France was with the Space Cowboys in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday when he got the news. He threw a bullpen at 9 a.m. the next morning and stayed with the team for the start of its 11 a.m. game. A 2 p.m. flight didn’t leave until 4:30, forcing him to run between gates in Denver to make his connection to Seattle.
“I think that’s the fastest mile I’ve ever ran,” he said. “I ended up getting into the hotel at like 12:30 a.m. [PT Friday],” he said. “Luckily, the first bus [from the hotel to T-Mobile Park] was at 2. I got some good sleep and was nice and rested."
The charter flights and luxury hotels of the big leagues will be a rewarding reminder for France of how far he’s come. And he’ll be able to share it with family. His wife and 3-month-old baby will be in the stands Saturday, along with his parents and a few other friends. The emotions will be thick once again.
“I don’t think I ever gave up hope, but I knew it was going to be tough,” France said. “It unfortunately had to come to some circumstances that weren’t exactly ideal for the guys, but it is what it is.”