Lights-out Javier primed to be Astros' key weapon in playoffs

September 26th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- The Astros have a starting rotation filled with pitchers that are peaking at the right time with the postseason just around the corner.

With Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr. and Framber Valdez leading the rotation, the Astros are set up nicely for what they hope will be another long playoff run.

Then, there is what Cristian Javier is doing right now. The right-hander spun six scoreless innings Sunday -- his third consecutive scoreless start -- striking out eight and allowing just one hit with no walks as the Astros outlasted the Orioles, 6-3, in 11 innings at Camden Yards.

"We persevered and persevered but those guys, they kept fighting and fighting,” said manager Dusty Baker. “They wouldn't go away. They got some big two-out hits. We got some big hits. ... Christian Vázquez played a great game, called a great game, and now it's time to go home."

A bases-loaded, two-run single from Vázquez capped off a four-run outburst in the 11th inning, leading Houston to a 51-30 finish on the road. Vázquez emphatically flipped his bat on both of his hits on Sunday, lining a double in the third before coming through in the 11th.

"It feels good when you get those big hits like the last one,” Vázquez said. “It was a fun win and a big win for us."

Javier threw only 76 pitches due to a 46-minute rain delay, and he didn’t get a winning decision for his efforts, but his impact set the tone for the Astros to pull out the win and split the four-game series. 

"He threw a lot of strikes, a lot of quality strikes,” Baker said. “He might have still been pitching had it not been for that rain delay."

"[I] felt really good,” Javier said through a team interpreter. “My arm felt strong and healthy and thanks to God, I was able to continue attacking the hitters."

Here's where the Astros stand:

Games remaining: 8
Standings update: Division clinched; 6 games ahead of NYY for top seed
Magic number for home-field advantage: 3

Javier once again mixed his four-seam fastball, slider and a knuckle curve to baffle hitters, retiring the first 13 batters before yielding Ryan Mountcastle’s single in the fifth for his only hit allowed.

How good has Javier been for the Astros?

• Javier has thrown 19 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to his Sept. 7 start against the Rangers.

• Javier has allowed just one run in his past four starts and two hits over his past two outings.

• Javier joined Freddy Peralta (2021) and Blake Snell (2018) in having five outings in a single season in which he went five or more innings with one or fewer hits allowed and at least as many strikeouts as innings pitched. No other player in AL/NL history has more than three such outings in a season.

• Batters are hitting .172 against Javier this season. That is second only to Tony Gonsolin’s .169 (minimum 100 PA).

Javier will now take this latest run into the postseason as the Astros begin their quest for a fourth World Series appearance in the past six seasons. The right-hander has experience in the playoffs and owns a career 2-1 record with a 3.15 ERA with 32 strikeouts over 20 innings in 11 appearances.

"I think it is important ... that he has come out of the bullpen,” Baker said of Javier. “He is a very calm young man. He seems like he never gets frustrated. You know he does internally but externally, he remains calm. He has an electric fastball. His breaking ball is getting better.”

Baker believes the crop of younger hurlers like Javier, Valdez and Bryan Abreu can make a positive impact in the postseason.

“That group came up during that [pandemic-shortened] 60-game season two years ago,” Baker said. “They came out of A-ball and Double-A, a lot of those guys. They are very young, but they are really experienced in postseason play, and I think that's going to help [them] and help us."

Baker has not decided how he will set up his postseason rotation. He is still thinking of the possibility that Verlander and Valdez will get two more turns in rotation before the regular season ends to stay in rhythm.

"We want them to go on regular rest as much as possible, but you don't want them to rest too much, because we got that five days in between [the regular season and the Division Series],” Baker said. “I don't like to say the word ‘worry,’ but I am concerned that rust will set in."

Javier will be crucial in whatever role he is assigned in the playoffs. But if the assignment is as part of the relief corps, Baker will have the luxury of stashing a starter-caliber pitcher like Javier in his bullpen for the postseason.