McCullers leads Astros' '22 rotation options

November 9th, 2021

HOUSTON -- In addition to finding out who will play shortstop, whether that’s free agent Carlos Correa or somebody else, the Astros will be in the market for at least one experienced starting pitcher this winter. Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke are both free agents and unlikely to return, though the club is expected to make a run at Verlander.

While they await to make their first significant move this winter, here’s how the Astros’ starting rotation could shape up in 2022:

1. RHP
McCullers put together a strong year in 2021, going 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts in the regular season. It was the best year of his career. He reached a career high in wins, starts, innings (162 1/3 ) and strikeouts, while posting the third-best ERA (3.16) in the American League.

McCullers, who signed a five-year, $85-million contract extension in the spring, pitched twice in the ALDS before suffering a forearm strain that cost him a shot at pitching in the ALCS and the World Series. He’ll be completely healthy for next season and looking to anchor Houston’s rotation in '22.

2. LHP
When Valdez broke his finger in his first start of the spring in March, the Astros were so concerned about his availability going forward they went out and signed Jake Odorizzi as insurance. Valdez healed more quickly than expected and wound up making 22 starts in the regular season, going 8-3 with a 3.62 ERA.

Coming off a breakout 2020 season, Valdez’s walk rate went up, but he remains an aggressive strike-thrower with an elite curveball who ranked third in the American League in walks per nine innings and sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.74). He had an up-and-down postseason that included a sterling eight innings against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

3. RHP
A finalist for AL Rookie of the Year, Garcia went 11-8 with a 3.48 ERA in 30 games (28 starts) in the regular season for the Astros. He led AL rookie pitchers in WAR (3.1), wins, innings pitched (155 1/3) and strikeouts (167) -- the second-highest strikeout total by a rookie in club history.

Garcia, who made his Major League debut last September, struggled in the playoffs, posting an 8.04 ERA in five starts, including four runs allowed in 6 1/3 innings in two starts in the World Series against the Braves. He’ll benefit from a winter of rest following a season-high workload and should be buoyed in '22 by his playoff experience.

4. RHP
Urquidy was limited to only 20 starts in the regular season because of two stints on the injured list with shoulder issues. Still, he remained a consistent performer when healthy for the Astros, going 8-3 with a 3.62 ERA while allowing two or fewer earned runs in 14 of those 20 starts.

A strike-thrower, Urquidy will be looking to take the next step for the Astros next year and could be a key piece to the rotation for the next few years. He ranked third in the AL in walks per nine innings (1.60) and has enough weapons to get elite hitters out in the strike zone.

5. RHP
Odorizzi’s first season in Houston was a uneven one, with him battling an injury early in the season and then expressing his displeasure over manager Dusty Baker's lack of trust in him to pitch deep into games. Odorizzi didn’t sign with the Astros until March, and he made three starts (10.13 ERA) to start the season before going on the IL on April 26 for a month with a right pronator strain.

He appeared in 21 games (20 starts) after coming back and went 6-5 with a 3.84 ERA, missing a few starts in September with a sore foot. He didn’t pitch more than five innings in his final six starts and was limited to two relief appearances in the playoffs after being left off the AL Division Series roster.

6. RHP
The Astros moved Javier to the bullpen early in the season because they had a wealth of starting pitching, but they struggled to find a consistent role for him. His command suffered as a result. Javier, who averaged 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings, walked 21 batters in 48 2/3 innings as a starter and 32 in 52 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.

He emerged as a multi-inning weapon in the bullpen to help the Astros reach the World Series, but was rocked for three homers in losses in Games 4 and 6 of the Fall Classic against the Braves. The Astros are adamant Javier’s future remains as a starter and he’ll likely come to camp competing for a spot in the rotation.