France 'earned' starting spot as Astros shift to six-man rotation

August 9th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- The Astros bolstered their rotation at the Trade Deadline more than maybe any other team, swinging a deal with the Mets to bring Justin Verlander back to Houston in a move that gave the club six healthy starters for the stretch run. That’s one of those good problems teams talk about having, and for the Astros, the best solution is keeping them all involved. 

The Astros are transitioning back to a six-man rotation this week and will do so for at least one full turn through, manager Dusty Baker said Wednesday in Baltimore. After Verlander makes his home debut Friday, the Astros will re-insert back into the rotation to start Saturday, with José Urquidy (Sunday), and then presumably, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Hunter Brown behind them.

The club’s reasons are twofold. The move allows Houston to build in an extra day of rest for its veteran starters (“they don’t call these the dog days of August for nothing,” Baker said.) and keep rookie right-hander France on turn. 

A revelation since replacing the injured Luis Garcia in the rotation in early May, France is 8-3 with a 2.75 ERA in 16 appearances (15 starts). He leads AL rookies in ERA (min: 75 IP), is tied for first in wins and ranks second in quality starts and third in innings. France last started July 31 and was moved to the bullpen when the club acquired Verlander the next day. 

“He earned it,” Baker said. “This is an ‘earn it’ business.”

The Astros are no strangers to expanding their rotation. They utilized a six-man rotation for much of 2022 to ease Verlander’s workload coming off Tommy John surgery, and stretched the limits of their pitching depth to implement one for several weeks this June in an attempt to weather injuries to Garcia, Urquidy and Lance McCullers Jr.

Garcia and McCullers Jr. remain out for the rest of the season. But with Urquidy back healthy, Verlander returned and France pitching as well as he has, the Astros’ now have a six-man rotation largely firing on all cylinders.