Javier's 'mystical' fastball of swing-and-miss variety

Astros righty logs nine strikeouts over six frames, keeps Rays at bay after early home run

July 29th, 2023

HOUSTON -- So far, the price of acquiring a starting pitcher on the trade market has been too much for the Astros to execute a deal. And with  on track to come off the injured list in early August and rejoin the rotation, general manager Dana Brown appeared to temper expectations somewhat Friday on Houston’s chances of adding a starter.

The return of Urquidy would certainly be a shot in the arm for the Astros’ rotation, but the best thing that could possibly happen for Houston in the final two months of the regular season is for ace lefty and right-hander  to recapture their first-half form.

Javier, who had a 9.70 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in his previous five starts, took another step forward in his return to top-flight starter status by allowing three runs -- all on a first-inning homer by Brandon Lowe -- in six innings in the Astros’ 4-3 loss to the Rays on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.

“He was good,” manager Dusty Baker said. “His velocity was good. He had a number of strikeouts and other than that couple of hit batsman and the home run pitch, [which came on a] slider in his happy zone. That was really the only mistake he made to a guy that can hit home runs.

“[Javier] was a lot better tonight than he had been in probably like four or five starts.”

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of Javier’s outing was a fastball that sat at 93.5 mph -- up nearly one full mph from his season average of 92.6 mph -- and the 22 swings-and-misses by Tampa Bay hitters, including 17 on the fastball. That is his most swings-and-misses since he had 24 on May 10.

“Yes, that was probably the best [fastball] I’ve had,” Javier said. “I thought it was pretty consistent and I was getting a lot of swings and misses.”

Javier gave up a one-out triple to Wander Franco in the first inning and hit Randy Arozarena with a pitch with two outs before Lowe turned on a first-pitch slider and sent it over the wall in right field for a three-run homer. Those were the only runs Tampa Bay scored until pushing across the winning run on a sacrifice fly off closer Ryan Pressly in the ninth inning.

“I just knew [Javier] had a really good fastball,” Lowe said. “There's something mystical about it. He had a lot of guys swinging and missing. So it was one of those things that I knew that I had to be on, and I had to be early and see something up.

“And thankfully, the slider was up."

Javier was 7-1 with a 2.84 ERA through his first 12 starts before suffering some sort of fatigue or dead arm. His strikeout numbers dipped and his walks soared, and he wasn’t the same pitcher he was in the first two months of the season.

The Astros skipped his start prior to the All-Star break to give him more rest and the time off appears to have worked well.

“I had the strength and energy that I’m used to having and felt very connected today,” Javier said.

The Astros tried to get Javier back in the win column for the first time in nearly two months. Jose Altuve tripled and scored in the first inning, and José Abreu launched a two-run homer in the fourth inning off Shane McClanahan to tie the score at 3.

The ninth inning belonged to former Astros center fielder Jose Siri, who led off against Pressly with a hustling double, went to third on a fly ball and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yandy Díaz.

"Siri, out of the box, he was thinking two,” Baker said. “That was good baserunning on his part and then they executed and advanced the runner, and a sacrifice fly. They played perfect baseball in that ninth inning, and any time you can do that, especially in a close game, it's to your advantage."