Fifth Starter Competition Showdown Today

There are 12 days remaining until opening day which means that the Astros will make a decision sooner rather than later about who will be taking the mound every fifth day to start the season. There are still five pitchers being considered for the final spot in the rotation, and with starting pitchers needing to stretch it out more each outing and relief pitchers needing to get more consistent work, spring innings will get harder and harder to come by. The picture may become a lot clearer after today when all five candidates are scheduled to pitch in the final split-squad games of the spring for the Astros with both games starting at 12:05 P.M.

Ryan (The Hyphen) Rowland-Smith will get the start in Kissimmee against the Pirates with Jordan Lyles and Lance Pendleton scheduled to follow. Nelson Figueroa will start in Lake Buena Vista against the Braves with Aneury Rodriguez scheduled to follow him. The following is a little run-down on what each player has done this spring so far.

Nelson Figueroa was probably considered the front runner for this spot when spring training began, but has done nothing to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack. His stat line so far reads a total of 9 innings pitched, with a 5.00 ERA, while walking 4 and striking out 4. One thing that doesn’t show in Nelson’s stat line is that he has had a decent outing every time out except for his last one against the Phillies where he was knocked around a little bit. What does show however is that he has walked as many as he has struck out, and needs to improve his control to prove that he will be capable of handling the role. With a decent outing today then Nelson probably seems to get at least one more outing to prove himself at the very least, or could be announced as the starter outright depending on the other’s performances.

The Hyphen has had a very similar spring to Figueroa’s spring thus far. He has also pitched 9 innings and has an ERA of 6.00, while walking 6 and only striking out 4. He has given up fewer hits than Nelson, 8 compared to 11, but has also shown greater control issues as well. At this time it seems like it would take a pretty decent outing from The Hyphen to keep his name in the running for the starting role. With no left-hander really stepping up and proving themselves for the lefty spot in the pen as well, it would seem like the pen may be a better fit for him at this time.

The rule 5 draft pick from Tampa Bay Aneury Rodriguez is another player that fits the profile of having a good but not great spring. Based on pure numbers, which is not something that is weighted heavy in spring training, Aneury has pitched second best out of all of the candidates. His stat line reads 9 innings pitched with an ERA of 4.00, while walking 4 and striking out 3. Walks have also been a concern with Aneury, and he has also been prone to getting into trouble and surrendering the big inning, but this could be a sign of his age and something that he can learn to pitch through. Being a rule 5 draft pick Aneury definitely needs to put his best foot forward today to remain in the running for the final rotation spot.

Of all the candidates remaining for the final spot in the rotation Lance Pendleton was probably one of the longer shots of actually winning that spot. In 7 innings of work Lance has a 6.43 ERA, with 7 walks with only 3 strikeouts. His control has been the shakiest of all candidates, and his last two outings have been forgettable. He would seem to get some consideration as a reliever if he does not when the rotation spot, but his control issues would be even more concerning as a reliever. Pendleton has to have an outstanding outing today to still be considered for the rotation, and with a crowded bullpen would have to have a good rest of the spring to prove enough to management to add him to the 25 man roster and keep him in Houston.

Jordan Lyles the 20 year old sensation has easily been the best Astros starter this spring. In 10 innings pitched Lyles has a 1.80 ERA with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. However due to his age and the fact that he only got his feet wet at the triple-A level last year the Astros would prefer to send him to Oklahoma to open the season to allow him to further develop. For Lyles to break camp as the fifth starter he would have to continue his dominant spring and the other guys would all have to struggle.

Zachery Levine stated yesterday that Mills expects the picture to get clearer tomorrow in regards as to who is still in the running for the final rotation spot. If spring ended yesterday then it would seem like Ryan Rowland-Smith would be better suited for the bullpen, and Lance Pendleton would probably not have shown enough to earn a spot on the 25 man roster. That would leave the competition to be between Nelson Figueroa, Aneury Rodriguez, and Jordan Lyles. Since both Nelson and Aneury have pitched good but not great this spring, Jordan would probably open the season in Oklahoma City, leaving the competition between Nelson and Aneury. Nelson has more experience, but Aneury has more upside and has had a slightly better spring. Part of Figueroa’s value seems to be his ability to fill in as a spot starter when needed with decent success. I think the best case scenario is that the Astros give Aneury Rodriguez the job for a couple of starts and have Nelson Figueroa ready as a backup option in case he doesn’t hit the ground running.

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