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Jones, Bailey are latest Astros to debut

Righty James stays in shape with backyard mound
@brianmctaggart
July 26, 2020

HOUSTON -- Taylor Jones, the 6-foot-7 first baseman who was called up when Aledmys Díaz went on the injured list on Saturday, made his Major League debut in Sunday's 7-6 loss to Seattle when he started at designated hitter. Brandon Bailey also made his big league debut in relief. Jones

HOUSTON -- Taylor Jones, the 6-foot-7 first baseman who was called up when Aledmys Díaz went on the injured list on Saturday, made his Major League debut in Sunday's 7-6 loss to Seattle when he started at designated hitter. Brandon Bailey also made his big league debut in relief.

Jones went 0-for-2, and Bailey allowed two hits in a scoreless ninth. They were the fourth and fifth Astros players to make their Major League debuts in the first three games of the season, following relief pitchers Cristian Javier, Blake Taylor and Enoli Paredes.

With an expanded roster of 30 players and injuries to relievers Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt, and reliever Joe Smith on the restricted list, Astros manager Dusty Baker has had to press some young kids into action. On Friday, Taylor and Paredes became the first Houston pitchers to debut on Opening Day since Wesley Wright in 2008.

“I think they’ve handled it well,” Baker said. “Like I said, we tried to get them in there as soon as possible to get their feet wet. It helps not to have people in the stands, for their sakes. You don’t feel the same nervousness. I think it’s helped them. When you’re young and naïve to a lot of things, to them it’s probably much like an extension of Spring Training.”

Javier, the Astros’ No. 6 prospect per MLB Pipeline, made his debut Saturday with a scoreless inning. He had pitched in only two games higher than Double-A prior to facing Seattle.

“I was super happy, super proud to have the first outing in the big leagues,” Javier said. “It was really a special moment for me.”

James builds mound in backyard
Astros right-hander Josh James, who will start Monday against the Mariners, kept in form during the baseball shutdown with the help of a Major League regulation pitcher’s mound in the backyard of his home in South Florida.

James needed a place to throw close to home, and in early April, he contacted a company that made portable pitching mounds. They told him they did youth-sized mounds, but they were willing to work with him.

“I contacted them and said, ‘Hey listen, this is who I am and this is what I do and I need a Major League regulation-sized mound,” James said. “The guy was like, ‘OK, no problem. I’ll have it for you.’ It took a week. I put it in my backyard. I got a net. I found a catcher who was a high school kid and is really good and he caught pretty much every ‘pen.”

James threw two times a week in April, and once he heard there was a possibility of the season starting in July, he started throwing more frequently to Yariel Díaz, a high school player in Florida. When the season was scheduled, James started throwing longer bullpen sessions in his backyard.

James, who reported to camp late following the birth of his daughter, spent the entire 2019 season 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. He came up through the system as a starter.

“To be on a World Series-caliber team and be in the rotation is big,” James said. “I think anybody would want to be in my situation, and I’m grateful and feel tremendously blessed to get the opportunity to perform.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.