What might the Astros' postseason rotation look like?

September 11th, 2022

HOUSTON -- If you consider Justin Verlander (if healthy), Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr. as locks for the Astros’ playoff rotation, the conversation for who will be their fourth starter likely begins with right-hander José Urquidy, despite his poor start Saturday night.

Before we analyze where Urquidy stands in a group that includes Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier and, yes, top prospect Hunter Brown, let’s sift through the rubble of a 6-1 loss to the Angels at Minute Maid Park, in which Shohei Ohtani gave up one run in five innings.

After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Angels on a sweltering Sunday at Angel Stadium six days earlier, Urquidy gave up a career-high-tying six earned runs and 10 hits in five innings Saturday. Mike Trout’s three-run homer in the second inning put the Angels ahead, 5-1, and the Astros’ punchless offense couldn’t recover.

Prior to Saturday, Urquidy was 8-2 with a 2.44 ERA and a .172 opponents’ average in 13 starts since June 21.

“That’s the first bad outing he’s had in months,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was center-cutting some fastballs. Usually, he’s on the corners. It hurt when he walked [Max] Stassi in that [second] inning, which rolled the lineup over.”

The walk to Stassi came two batters before Trout homered for the sixth game in a row. Urquidy was better from there, allowing his final run in the fifth inning. He was in the strike zone, as usual, throwing 61 of his 88 pitches for strikes.

“They hit some balls hard that were caught early, and they had some soft-contact infield hits that started rallies, and then the three-run homer by Trout,” Baker said. “He’s the hottest man around. I think he’s hit, like, homers in six straight games. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that.

"We had Ohtani on the ropes in the first inning. He got out of it. And then he settled down. He wasn’t as sharp as he usually was, and when he came out with a blister, their bullpen shut us down. That was kind of the ballgame.”

So where does Urquidy stand for October? First of all, he’s thrown a career-high 151 innings and has managed to avoid the injured list. Last year, he was on the IL twice for right shoulder issues.

“I feel great physically,” he said. “That was one of my goals for the season. We’re almost in October, and I feel great. But, you know, the rest is part of the game. I’m trying to win every single outing, but some outings are different and some are difficult.”

Urquidy is probably still Houston’s fourth-best starting pitcher and has extensive playoff experience. Urquidy has three wins in the World Series for the Astros and has posted 4.05 ERA in 33 1/3 career postseason innings. He won both of Houston’s World Series victories last year against the Braves, giving up two earned runs in six innings in two appearances (one start and one relief appearance).

Brown, the team’s No. 1-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, threw six scoreless innings in his Major League debut Monday and will make his second start Tuesday against the Tigers in his hometown of Detroit.

Brown has a terrific upside, and the Astros will use the final three-plus weeks of the regular season to determine if he can help them in the playoffs, and in what role.

Then there’s Javier, who has tremendous swing-and-miss stuff (11.8 strikeouts per nine innings), but can be inconsistent throwing strikes and prone to the long ball. Javier has extensive experience as a reliever and would be the most comfortable among the group of Urquidy, Brown and Garcia to pitch in relief.

Garcia, who will start Sunday’s series finale, is 11-8 with a 3.99 ERA, including a 4.58 ERA in 10 starts since July 5. The next three weeks figure to loom large for Baker when he considers his playoff rotation, but it will be weighed against the entire season’s work. That bodes well for Urquidy.

“You’ve got to think about the total body of work and who they were facing, what kind of defense we were playing, what kind of hits they were getting,” Baker said. “You take all that into consideration, but you basically take the total body of work.”