Astros trending upward with key arms back
HOUSTON -- Slowly but surely, the Astros’ starting pitching rotation is getting healthier. The Astros have returned three key starters from the injured list in the past four games, with right-hander José Urquidy returning to the mound and throwing well in Monday’s 11-2 win over the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park.
Urquidy, who left his May 12 start with right posterior shoulder discomfort, held the Red Sox -- one of baseball’s best offenses -- to one run and three hits while striking out a season-high nine batters in six innings. Boston had entered the day leading the Major Leagues in OPS and ranked second in batting average and third in runs per game.
Urquidy (4-2) retired the first 11 batters he faced and didn’t allow a hit until a two-out double in the fifth inning by Christian Vázquez. All three hits he allowed were doubles. Urquidy pounded the strike zone, throwing 61 of 87 pitches for strikes.
“I was really anxious to get back on the hill after going 15 days without pitching in games,” he said. “I was glad to have the performance I did today.”
The only starter remaining on the IL for the Astros is right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who was placed on the shelf last week with right shoulder soreness. Astros manager Dusty Baker said McCullers might not return until mid-June, which means Luis Garcia -- Tuesday’s starter -- will remain in the rotation.
The Astros welcomed back lefty Framber Valdez (broken ring finger) for his 2021 debut on Friday and right-hander Jake Odorizzi (right pronator muscle strain) on Saturday after he had missed a month. Veteran right-hander Zack Greinke is the only starter who hasn’t missed any time.
“I’ll feel better when I get McCullers back, and I’ll feel better when these guys get their endurance back when they can potentially go seven innings,” Baker said. “We’re not going to score that many runs every day. You hope you don’t have to go to the bullpen and lean on leverage guys every day for a long period of time. It’s very important we get these guys back and we get our bullpen situated.”
The Astros have won each of Urquidy’s last five starts, with him going 4-0 with a 1.52 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. In 29 2/3 innings in that span, he’s allowed 18 hits, five runs and three walks while striking out 22 batters. He has held opponents to an OPS of .530.
“I love having Urquidy back, man,” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said. “Urquidy is so much fun to work behind. He works fast, he throws strikes, he attacks hitters. That’s what you want as an infielder. When you see a pitcher working fast like he does and throwing strikes, you’re always on your toes and ready for a ground ball and ready to make a defensive play. It’s great to have him back.”
Tempo has been a key for Urquidy, who’s been focusing on working fast to keep his fielders engaged in the game and giving opposing hitters less time to think between pitches.
“Everything was in sync,” Baker said. “[Urquidy] told us that he was going to be ready, and he said he felt great, which he did. He threw as good a game as he threw the whole year. When Urquidy says something, he’s usually very honest and truthful about everything. That’s what impressed me the most. He never shows any emotions, but he was just very calm and collected during the course of the whole game.”
The Astros reached double-digit runs for the first time since May 14 behind Kyle Tucker, who went 3-for-5 with a two-run single and four RBIs. Jose Altuve had a pair of hits, including a homer, and scored three runs. Correa went 2-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored, and Alex Bregman was 1-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs.