Odorizzi rights ship, picks up 1st 'W' since '19

June 10th, 2021

With the imminent return of Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros’ starting rotation will soon feel a bit like a game of musical chairs. If Jake Odorizzi wants to avoid being the guy without a seat when the music stops, he’ll have to make his case on the mound.

Wednesday’s start, in which Odorizzi allowed three runs over five innings in an 8-3 win at Fenway Park, was more encouraging than the box score suggests. Odorizzi flashed some season-high velocity and rebounded from a tumultuous first inning to retire 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.

“He showed a lot of progress from the time before, and that’s the key,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “As long as he keeps progressing to the point where he thinks he should be and we think he should be, that means he’s in route.”

Due to a right forearm strain that forced him out for about a month, Odorizzi’s opportunities with his new team have been fairly limited. He entered the night 0-3 with a 7.16 ERA in just five starts.

The issue of limited reps is something that has plagued him dating back to last season, when a muscle strain, a chest contusion and a blister kept him out of all but four starts with the Twins.

After modeling consistency in the previous six seasons, averaging 30 starts and 165 innings per year in that span, Odorizzi has been anything but that lately.

It makes sense, then, that Odorizzi says he feels like he’s in the first month of the season right now: “Arm feels good. The readings on stuff are normal, but the execution is off a little bit. … For me, it’s just about reps.”

A lack of reps can lead to the sort of calamity he faced in the first inning, when the first two batters reached on a walk and a double -- and both came around to score. Odorizzi said he felt “out of whack mechanically,” with his upper half working too quickly through his motion.

Once that was tweaked, he silenced the Red Sox the rest of the way, save for a solo homer by Xander Bogaerts in the fourth. Houston’s offense did plenty to back Odorizzi, pouring on 17 hits, including seven doubles and two home runs. Seven players recorded multihit games, and Alex Bregman led the way with a pair of doubles, a home run and two RBIs.

A true team effort led to the victory, but it’s notable that Odorizzi was credited with his first win of the season. His first win, in fact, since Sept. 24, 2019. 

“Step in the right direction today after the first inning,” he said. “So build off of that, keep working in between [bullpen sessions] and keep trying to get to that full form.” 

Whether or not he reaches full form before McCullers returns, Odorizzi could still be the one squeezed out of the rotation. Framber Valdez has dazzled in his first three starts since returning from the injured list (1.47 ERA), and rookie Luis Garcia has morphed into the staff ace, winning each of his past five starts with a 1.86 ERA in that span. 

The concept of a starter competition is not lost on Odorizzi, but he’s not thinking much about it. His competition lies internally, and in time, he hopes to be the dependable arm Houston sought this past winter. 

“I just need to keep on my path -- working on execution, working on things -- and be focused on that,” Odorizzi said. “Having a lot of starters is a good thing. We’re gonna need ‘em in the long run.  

“It can be a headache, but at least you have guys that can give you quality innings. That’s really what it’s all about.”