When the Astros arrived at Kauffman Stadium on Monday, 24-year-old reliever Enoli Paredes took the time to look at the mound and envision late Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura pitching in the World Series.
“That’s my dream, too,” said Paredes, who called Ventura his “brother.”
Ventura, who won a World Series with the Royals in 2015 and was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 22, 2017, was a huge influence on Paredes. The Astros righty made Ventura proud by striking out five batters in two innings in Houston’s 15-6 exhibition victory over Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon.
“When he came back to the Dominican Republic, I asked how he felt when he was pitching in the World Series when everybody was watching him,” Paredes said. “He told me he just tried to do what he knew how to do. He didn’t try to do too much.”
Paredes -- who, like Ventura, stands 5-foot-11 and is from humble beginnings -- dazzled when he took the mound in the fifth inning. He struck out the side on 11 pitches and came back to strike out two more in the sixth while pitching around two hits and a walk.
“He was great,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was really good in [his] first inning, and in [his] second inning, he kind of lost his command, which is what young guys will do. He ended up getting out of it with a strikeout. He threw the ball really good.”
Paredes, the Astros’ No. 13 prospect per MLB Pipeline, split last year between Class A Advanced Fayetteville (10 games) and Double-A Corpus Christi (12 games), starting 12 of those 22 games. He posted a combined 2.78 ERA and struck out 128 batters in 94 innings. Because the Astros’ bullpen is thin to start the season, he might have to make the jump to the big leagues.
“I’m ready for the opportunity,” said Paredes, who gained 20 pounds in the offseason and refined his changeup. “I don’t have a decision, so I’m going to keep doing my best and working hard. When the opportunity comes, I’m going to try to help the team to win the World Series again.”
The Astros scratched starting pitcher Josh James from Tuesday's exhibition as a precaution because of weather. Baker said James will throw a simulated game on Wednesday in Houston, and he will be on target to start Monday against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park.
“We didn’t want to run him out there and only throw two innings [because of rain],” Baker said.
Pressly, who will assume the role as closer to start the year, with Roberto Osuna unavailable, struck out the first two batters he faced in a 1-2-3 first inning. Chris Devenski had a perfect second before a pair of walks to start the third did him in.
“That’s why we had to go get him,” Baker said. “From being in a controlled environment of Minute Maid Park, the guys tired a little quicker than normal.”
James, who reported late to camp following the birth of his daughter, spent all of 2019 on the Astros’ Major League roster, appearing almost exclusively as a reliever. He had a 4.70 ERA and posted a 14.77 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, which was the fifth-best mark by a rookie in Major League history. James came up through the system as a starter.
Justin Verlander will make his 12th Opening Day start when the Astros open the 2020 regular season against the Mariners at 8:10 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park, live on MLB.TV. Lance McCullers Jr. will start Saturday for Houston, followed by Zack Greinke on Sunday. Verlander, the ‘19 American League Cy Young Award winner, went 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA, 300 strikeouts and a 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings last year. Lefty Marco Gonzales will start for Seattle.