Six pack: Astros lengthen rotation

April 28th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ARLINGTON -- When Cristian Javier made his first start of 2022 on Wednesday against the Rangers, it meant the start of the Astros using a six-man pitching rotation for the foreseeable future. The club is in the early days of a stretch in which it plays 33 games in 34 days and no starter has yet to reach 100 pitches in any of the team’s first 17 games.

The shortened Spring Training because of the lockout has forced teams to ease their starting pitchers into the season, and an extra day of rest between starts early in the season should be beneficial for their health and performance.

“We do have a lot of games in a short period of time,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We started figuring it out in Spring Training, really, so we think that’s best for the staff and best for the team.”

A six-man rotation stands to benefit Justin Verlander more than anyone. Verlander missed all last season following Tommy John surgery but has recaptured his 2019 form in three starts. He threw eight scoreless innings April 16 against the Mariners in his second start and followed that up with a quality start Friday night against the Blue Jays. Verlander has been the Astros’ best starter and has given them 19 quality innings – a team-high among the starters.

The Astros want to keep Verlander pitching every sixth or seventh day for now, as opposed to every fifth day, considering he had thrown one game in the previous two seasons. The Astros slotted Javier into the rotation for Wednesday’s game in Arlington, pushing Verlander to Thursday and keeping him on five days of rest.

The decision to put Javier in the rotation is probably overdue. He’s proven to be a capable Major League starter, but he’s also been flexible enough to pitch in relief, which is why he’s bounced between the rotation and the bullpen the last couple of years. Last year, he had a 3.14 ERA in 48 2/3 innings in nine starts before he was pushed to the bullpen when Framber Valdez returned from his broke finger in late May.

The six-man rotation could be here for a while, too. The Astros have only two off days in the entire month of May (May 9, May 26). When they designated veteran reliever Pedro Báez for assignment on Tuesday, Seth Martinez was recalled from Triple-A and could provide some length in the ‘pen that was lost when Javier went to the rotation.

“I hope we continue to have six starters we feel good enough about that we can have a six-man rotation, that’s the first thing,” general manager James Click said. “Beyond that, we’re going to continue to assess our players and their health and their recovery and their ability to bounce back. Hopefully we can lengthen them and continue to get more innings out of them and take some of the stress out of the bullpen.”