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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  • vida311

    Figueroa was named the 5th starter. This is an overall solid decision. I like the way he pitched last year. Nothing amazing, but he’s a good player. Jordan will get a chance to build up his confidence and work on some minor things in OK city. He’ll definitely be ready to make some noise when he gets called up sometime in the summer.

    • Jesse Pawalowski

      I agree with you that sending Jordan Lyles back down was the smart thing to do. At the start of spring training I was hoping that one of the other candidates would step up so Lyles could have a full season at triple-A, but as spring wore on I was very impressed with how he handled major league hitters for the first time. I guess I wanted Lyles to be sent down while also winning the fifth starter spot.
      There are three benefits to starting Lyles in the minors and basically only one setback. First Lyles will be allowed to further develop his arsenal and be more prepared for the big leagues when its his time. As far as national media is concerned the biggest knock against Lyles is the velocity of his fastball. However what surprised me when I watched some of his starts this spring on mlb.tv is that he was able to hit 94 mph a couple of different times but could not control that pitch. This would tell you that Lyles could probably throw is four seamer 94 whenever he wants but chooses not to because he can’t control it. If Lyles was sent down and could work on the control of that pitch then he would probably jump way up the prospect rankings in national media’s eyes.
      Another plus is that it will postpone starting his service clock, and the Astros could end up avoiding Lyles earning super 2 status. This would give the club more years of a cost controlled Lyles before he reaches arbitration. Another plus is that it allows Lyles to build up his innings in a more controlled environment which could help prevent against future injury. The only drawback that I see is that with Nelson as a fifth starter you lose him as the swing man. I know this is a role that most don’t believe to be to important, but having an above average spot starter on the team without having to make a roster move to safeguard against injury is an added luxury. Brian Moehler has played that role in the past and Figueroa could probably do a better job at it than Moehler did.
      To sum it all up I was glad that Lyles was sent down, but at the same time also a little disappointed.