Urquidy looks to bounce back in G2 start

October 27th, 2021

HOUSTON -- José Urquidy has been on this stage before and knows what it takes to win big games in big moments.

After all, he’s a “pretty cool customer as a pitcher,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, which is why Houston has no problem pegging Urquidy for Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.

“He's not new,” Baker said. “He's been in this before. Just need to see quality.”

Length would be helpful, too. Game 1 -- which resulted in a 6-2 loss to the Braves -- turned into a bullpen game following Framber Valdez’s exit after two-plus innings. The left-hander faced two batters in the third before Baker turned to Yimi García to finish off the inning.

García was the first of five Houston relievers to pitch in the losing effort. That included 2 1/3 innings from Jake Odorizzi, the Astros’ lone long-relief option who likely won't be able to pitch again in Game 2. Cristian Javier is next in line, but he would probably be on a two-inning limit in relief.

If Houston is going to avoid opening the World Series in the same manner it did the American League Championship Series, it will need Urquidy to have a more traditional outing. The Astros received only 5 1/3 total innings from their starters over the first three games of the ALCS against the Red Sox.

Many expected rookie Luis Garcia to start Game 2 after the Astros named Valdez their Game 1 starter. Garcia was 11-8 with a 3.48 ERA in the regular season, and he most recently shut down the Red Sox in the clinching game of last week’s ALCS.

That was last Friday, though, so having Garcia start Game 3 in Atlanta on Friday gives him six days of rest instead of the four that he would have had if Garcia started Wednesday. The Astros haven’t named a Game 4 starter yet, but veteran right-hander Zack Greinke could be on deck depending on who is used in the next two games.

Urquidy started Oct. 18 in Boston, throwing just 1 2/3 innings with six runs (five earned) allowed. The week of rest he’s had factored into the decision, too.

“To give Garcia that extra day's rest and not to have Urquidy be too long in between starts,” Baker said. “… I was told a long time ago that the pitchers rust out before they wear out. So it was twofold. Just give one rest and one to give work.”

Putting Urquidy on the mound for Game 2 in Houston also gives the Astros their best defensive alignment in the outfield for the fly-ball pitcher, rather than in Atlanta where there will be no designated hitter in the lineup. That might put Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez (typically the DH) in corner outfield spots and Kyle Tucker in center field instead of the speedy Chas McCormick.

Garcia had a 38.5 percent ground-ball rate in the regular season, perhaps giving the Astros more confidence with their outfield alignment in a National League park.

Regardless of the matchups or park, Urquidy -- who signed with the Astros out of Mexico in 2015 -- is looking to be less like the pitcher he was last week and more like the one he was in the ‘19 postseason, when he started Game 4 of the World Series and shut out the Nationals for five innings in the Astros’ 8-1 win.

“It's a lot different from the first time,” Urquidy said. “I feel a lot more confident in myself, a lot more prepared. Having had that experience and having been in a lot of different stadiums with a lot of different noise, a lot of fans screaming different things at you, I think just gets you more prepared for different situations like this.

“… I feel more excited than anything. I know that it's a big job that I have, but I'm more excited and have left the nerves to the side a little bit. So I'm really just focused on the job that I have to do tomorrow. I'm really excited to get out there and compete and do everything I can to help all the guys.”

Urquidy hopes to follow the trend that both Garcia and Valdez showed in the ALCS, turning rough first postseason starts into gems later on in the series. The 26-year-old Urquidy did talk to Valdez and Garcia about their turnarounds, leaning on the young pitchers for advice as he heads into Game 2.

“You saw they both had a couple of rough outings and turned around and had a good one,” Urquidy said. “What they were able to do is throw hard and attack the zone. That's basically what they told me is attack the zone, be throwing a ton of strikes and just attack the hitters.”

Urquidy paused, wanting to emphasize the most important thing he needs to take into Wednesday’s start with his fastball and breaking balls.

“And spin the ball,” he added with a smile.