Brown poised to take advantage of opening in Astros' rotation

February 23rd, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The way sees it, the injury to doesn’t change a thing for him. Brown, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline, came to spring camp determined to win a spot in the rotation anyway, and now it appears he’s on track to get one.

Wednesday’s news that McCullers Jr. won’t be ready for Opening Day after he sustained what he called a small muscle strain in his right elbow -- an injury that arose following a bullpen session on Feb. 14 -- leaves the Astros with five healthy starters with a month to go: , , , and Brown.

It's the opportunity Brown and Astros fans have been waiting for, though it’s come at McCullers' expense.

“There was a good chance he might have been in [the rotation] in the first place,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We’re sort of counting on him. … It does create an opportunity, at least a temporary opportunity, for somebody else to shine.”

Even if the rotation had been fully healthy to start the season, Brown was still going to get his share of innings throughout 2023. Houston went with a six-man rotation at times last year with great success, and new general manager Dana Brown said on Wednesday that he thought it was a smart move.

“I came into camp thinking the opportunity was there to make the rotation regardless,” Hunter Brown said Thursday. “So, I mean, nothing really changes for the way that I prepare and things like that. If we want to repeat as champions, we’re going to need Lance, and hopefully he can bounce back as soon as possible. I came into camp trying to break the rotation anyway, and that’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.”

Brown, 24, doesn’t think he has a spot won just yet. The Astros do have some pitching depth behind their projected five starters, but it’s hard to fathom or a prospect like winning a slot to start the year. The final rotation spot is Brown’s to lose.

“There’s a lot of camp left, and there’s a lot of guys that are gunning for these opportunities,” he said. “I have to keep my foot on the gas pedal and show the staff and front office that I’m here to pitch and hopefully break in the rotation.”

Brown is well built for the opportunity, both mentally and physically. He has overpowering stuff, with a mid-90s fastball and power curve. He made his Major League debut last September, appearing in seven regular-season games, including two starts. He struck out 22, walked seven and gave up two earned runs in 20 1/3 innings. He threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the playoffs.

“I saw what it takes to win,” said Brown, who didn’t throw in the World Series. “That was the biggest thing -- how to keep a level head in certain situations and how to bounce back from a tough loss in the playoffs like we had. There’s just multiple things that go into that. So many things you can take from it, individual guys or as a team as a whole.”

Brown threw his first live bullpen session of the spring on a hot Thursday afternoon on the backfields at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. He threw approximately 25 pitches to third baseman , shortstop and outfield prospect .

Bregman gushed about Brown, comparing his mechanics with Justin Verlander -- Brown’s idol while growing up in Detroit -- and Gerrit Cole, and he likened Brown's stuff to Cole's.

“He looked good,” Bregman said. “The fastball looked like it was really good and had good life to it. The curveball is sharp as always. The slider, the one he got down and away was really good. He looked amazing for the first time out. Really, really good. I didn’t see one bad fastball the entire time. I was happy with that, especially early. I like looking at guys’ heaters to see where they’re at.”

Brown likes his stuff and is working on how to attack hitters, which is going to be a focal point for him in camp.

“The way we talk about pitching and attack plans, the way they develop your arsenal and things like that, it just goes a long way to show what great people we have in this organization,” Brown said.