Javier carves niche by coming up big when it counts

October 23rd, 2023

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.

HOUSTON -- Other than Justin Verlander, there’s probably not another pitcher the Astros would rather have on the mound for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series than right-hander , the author of quite a few big games for Houston in the past two seasons.

“With him on the bump, we feel good to go,” infielder-outfielder Mauricio Dubón said.

The Astros are hoping Javier can deliver one more clutch performance in Game 7 against the Rangers to send Houston to the World Series for the third year in a row. Javier held the Rangers to two runs in 5 2/3 innings in a Game 3 ALCS win -- the only runs he’s allowed in 16 2/3 innings in his past three starts, including the regular season (1.08 ERA).

“It's just the same game -- same people,” Javier said. “Just got to go out there and compete. Nothing different.”

Coming off a strong 2022 season, Javier lived up to that potential in the first two months of the season by going 7-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in his first 12 starts, which covered 69 2/3 innings. The rest of the summer was a grind, but a strong closing kick, including six scoreless innings in the regular-season finale in Arizona, got him back on track.

“You know, he's in great shape. He trains a lot,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “The guy has a very slow heartbeat. And he's been a big-game pitcher for us. Why he turned around, why he had bad streaks and good streaks, sometimes there's no explanation. Sometimes, you just get in a groove, you find your rhythm and find your timing, and I think that's most of it.”

How huge was Javier in last year’s playoffs? He appeared in three games (two starts) and was 2-0 with a 0.71 ERA while striking out 16 batters and allowing two hits and one run in 12 2/3 innings. He threw six no-hit innings in a combined no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series in Philadelphia -- the first no-hitter in the Fall Classic since Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in 1956.

The key to Javier’s success will be his rising fastball, which is difficult for hitters to pick up when it’s effective. Javier threw 64 percent fastballs (54 of his 85 total pitches) and generated seven swings-and-misses on the pitch in his Game 3 win in Arlington on Wednesday.

“His location is really good and his movement is really good,” Rangers designated hitter Mitch Garver said. “Mid-90s; it has this feeling that it's riding at the top of the zone. A lot of misses are going to be under the fastball, and we know that. And he does a really good job mixing his pitches but also utilizing the top of the zone with it. So, just a matter of game planning and execution.”

The Astros are 2-3 in Game 7s in franchise history, including 2-2 in the American League (1-1 at home). They won Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS at home and lost Game 7 of the 2019 World Series at home. They won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series on the road and lost Game 7 of the 2020 ALCS vs. the Rays in San Diego.