“He’s ailing a bit,” Baker said Saturday. “He threw the other day in a simulated game, and he came up a little sore. We’re analyzing him now and trying to figure out how to get him back out there or if he needs to rest.”
Whitley, the team’s first-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, has yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game this spring. Whitley, along with several other players, showed up at camp a few days late because of coronavirus intake protocols.
This season is expected to be a make-or-break year for the 23-year-old, who was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, and he has a shot to make the Major Leagues at some point in the coming months. Whitley’s career has been held back because of injuries, including a forearm strain last year while he was working out at the Astros’ alternate training site.
Earlier this week, Whitley said he was healthy and wanted to throw 140-160 innings this season.
“But that's going to be a whole other thing with the Astros and seeing how they feel,” he said. “I'm obviously looking forward to working with them on that, and hopefully I can achieve that goal. That’s a very big goal of mine.”
In 2019, Whitley posted a 7.99 ERA in four Minor League levels, including a 12.21 ERA at Triple-A Round Rock before being placed on the injured list with shoulder fatigue. In 2018, he was suspended 50 games for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and suffered a pair of oblique injuries. In 2017, he appeared in only 23 games across three levels, posting a 2.83 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings.
“He came into camp in great shape,” Astros general manager James Click said earlier this week. “He’s doing really well in terms of getting his work in, and it’s just great to see him letting it go and throwing free and easy, which to all of us says a lot about how his arm feels. He’s out there and he’s getting after it. The sky’s the limit for this kid and has been for a long time. We’re hoping to try to find a way to help put it all together.”
Greinke tinkers with changes in debut
Since veteran right-hander Zack Greinke arrived in Houston at the 2019 Trade Deadline, the Astros have been trying to get him to pitch at the top of the zone with his fastball. That’s not surprising since the Astros preached throwing elevated fastballs for years, something that worked well for Gerrit Cole when he came over from the Pirates.
“That’s all they talk about here, and they’ve been wanting me to do ever since I got here,” Greinke said Saturday after giving up two hits and one run in one inning in his 2021 Grapefruit League debut, a 6-1 Astros loss to the Mets. “I’ve thrown it a lot more since I’ve been here. Maybe try to do it even more if it works. So far, it’s worked OK. Not amazing."
Greinke barely hits 90 mph with his fastball anymore, so he’s had to reinvent himself by throwing his changeup more and his cutter less. He still throws one of the slowest curveballs in baseball, and he threw a 53.5 mph eephus pitch to Padres outfielder Trent Grisham last year. Greinke followed with an 89 mph dart on the outside corner for a strikeout.
Greinke’s fastball was between 88-90 mph in Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the Mets at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. He said his changeup was so-so and he threw one good slider.
“Obviously, I feel really good,” he said. “I’m healthy and the ball is coming out pretty good. I’m not in midseason form, but I guess at this point of spring, those are the keys -- being healthy and ball coming out good enough.”