Heavy workload strains 'pen in tough loss

June 30th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The thoughts that were going through Dusty Baker’s head when starting pitcher José Urquidy signaled he was feeling some sort of discomfort in his shoulder in the second inning Tuesday night probably bordered on panic and disbelief.

Urquidy, who had thrown seven innings in each of his last three starts, lasted only 1 2/3 innings in a 13-3 loss to the Orioles, leaving the game after 27 pitches with shoulder discomfort. That meant the Astros’ overworked bullpen was going to have to cover 7 2/3 innings, and it didn’t go well.

The Orioles scored once in the seventh to take the lead and then poured on five runs in the eighth and four in the ninth, with Astros infielder Robel García pitching to end the game. He wasn’t the only relief pitcher to take his lumps, though.

Brooks Raley gave up two runs (one earned) in one inning, Ralph Garza Jr. allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings, and Ryne Stanek gave up five runs in the eighth, including a bases-clearing double by Maikel Franco that blew the game open. Stanek was pitching for the third time in four games and admitted his arm was feeling the effects.

“I’ve been throwing the baseball pretty good until today, obviously,” he said. “I made some good pitches, and I hit a wall physically. In that position, I knew the strain the bullpen had been under and there wasn’t anybody coming to help. Everything that happened was going to be on me. I was going out there and trying to grind through it. Unfortunately, it didn't go right. It is what it is.”

The Astros have lost four of five games, including three in a row, to the Tigers and Orioles since having their 11-game winning streak snapped Thursday. They’ll turn to rookie Luis Garcia in Wednesday’s series finale to avoid getting swept at Minute Maid Park by an Orioles team that had lost 22 of 23 games on the road heading into the series.

“It’s very difficult,” Astros second baseman Jose Altuve said. “Nobody wants to go out here and lose a game like that. I think it’s part of the game. We’ve just got to come back tomorrow and win a game and forget about tonight’s game.”

Urquidy, who spent two weeks on the injured list in late May with right posterior shoulder discomfort, allowed a leadoff homer to Cedric Mullins on his second pitch before recording three consecutive outs. After getting Ryan McKenna out to start the second, Urquidy’s velocity dipped and he looked uncomfortable on the mound, prompting a visit from trainers. His night was done.

Baker said the shoulder discomfort is in a different area than what Urquidy experienced in May, but the team won’t know the severity of it until he’s seen by a doctor on Wednesday.

“We were hoping we’d get some innings out of him today and put our bullpen back in sync for the next five days,” Baker said. “It didn’t work. Boy, it was a tough night. It was a real tough night for our offense and a tough night for our pitching staff.”

The Astros’ bullpen had done solid work in the 15 games prior to the Orioles series, posting a 1.70 ERA in 42 1/3 innings. Houston relievers have worked 11 2/3 innings in two losses to the Orioles, giving up 12 runs (11 earned) and 15 hits. Baker said they’ll have to call up a fresh arm or two from Triple-A Sugar Land for Wednesday’s game.

“It’s obviously tough,” Stanek said. “There’s no sugarcoating it. The workload’s been really heavy lately. You just get run out there a lot, and some guys are running on fumes. It just happens. You never expect a guy to go down in a start and only get an inning. That obviously puts the bullpen in a bad spot whenever we [don’t] really have any length. You had to push a lot of guys substantially further than they would usually be used, and more days in a row than they would usually be used. There’s a lot of guys going out there and going above and beyond to just get outs.”