Baker ponders rotation with Verlander on IL

July 27th, 2020

HOUSTON – After placing ace pitcher Justin Verlander on the 10-day injured list with a forearm strain, manager Dusty Baker said Monday that he is considering patching together relief pitchers to work Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers, a game Verlander was scheduled to start. Lefty Framber Valdez will start Tuesday’s series opener against Los Angeles.

“It all depends on which pitchers throw [Monday] and [Tuesday] and who’s available,” manager Dusty Baker said.

How the Astros handle the loss of Verlander, who’s been shut down from throwing for two weeks, figures to be paramount to their success in a shortened season. The team is already thin when it comes to pitching, with veterans Austin Pruitt and Brad Peacock on the injured list, reliever Joe Smith on the restricted list and starter Jose Urquidy on the IL and working out at the alternate training site in Corpus Christi, Texas.

While putting Verlander on the IL on Monday – and optioning rookie infielder Taylor Jones – the club recalled two more young arms to join the staff, giving them six pitchers who began this year without Major League experience. They have a whopping eight rookies in their bullpen.

Right-handers Brandon Bielak, the team’s No. 12-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, and Nivaldo Rodriguez (No. 29) have joined the Major League club. Bielak spent most of last year at Triple-A Round Rock, but Rodriguez advanced as high as Class A Advanced Fayetteville last year.

Even if the Astros use a bullpen game Wednesday, they’ll probably look to find an arm to plug into the rotation until Peacock, Pruitt or Urquidy are back. The most likely candidates are Cy Sneed, who appeared in eight games last year in his Major League debut, or No. 6-ranked prospect Cristian Javier, who made his debut Saturday and was stretched out to 77 pitches in Summer Camp.

Springer mum on future

Astros All-Star outfielder George Springer conducted his first interview since Spring Training was shut down in March, but he didn’t offer much insight about his frame of mind in terms of looming free agency. Springer is one of a handful of key free agents the Astros will have at season’s end.

“It’s a time where I’m not really focused on the future,” Springer said Monday. “I’m trying to stay in the present. I’m trying to stay safe and make sure I do all the right things, and at a later date I’ll figure that out.”

Springer, 30, figures to be one of the most coveted free agents on the market this offseason, though how the coronavirus shutdown affects the market remains to be seen. The pandemic wasn’t a stumbling block for Mookie Betts, the former American League Most Valuable Player who last week signed a 12-year, $365-million extension with the Dodgers.

“I haven’t thought about it,” said Springer, who’s three years older than Betts. “I’m happy for him. He’s a tremendous player. He earned it, but that’s him. It doesn’t concern me.”

Springer, the 2017 World Series MVP, was asked about the possibility he won’t play in front of Minute Maid Park fans again for Houston.

“The fans in Houston have been tremendous,” he said. “They’ve been tremendous my whole career. To be able to play in this ballpark and be able to play in this city has been an absolute joy to me. Again, it’s odd times that we’re living in. I know the fans that are here with us in spirit.”