With Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals in town the Astros are now talking about limiting the innings of their best pitcher. The Nats and General Manager Mike Rizzo have been in the news recently after declaring Strasburg will be shut down when his innings total reaches 160 despite the team’s position in the standings. Washington is poised to make the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. Their only other post-season appearance came in the strike shortened 1981 season when they were known as the Montreal Expos.
The Astros, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the standings and have nothing to lose by shutting down their ace, Lucas Harrell. Although they are not likely to completely shut Harrell down, the Astros are prepared to limit his innings. Harrell has pitched more innings (133 & 1/3) than any National League rookie and the Astros are ready to take steps to lighten his workload. Harrell has been a pleasant surprise, going 9-7 with a 3.98 ERA in 22 starts and drawing praise from opposing players and managers.
Harrell has picked up both of the Astros last two victories and has allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his last eight starts. The Astros are thinking about skipping Harrell’s turn in the rotation a few times down the stretch to reduce wear-and-tear on his valuable right arm.
It might be a sound strategy to try and skip him on the road. Harrell has been money at home, going 6-1 with a 2.02 ERA at Minute Maid Park. In 13 efforts away from home he has gone 3-6 with a 5.50 ERA, although he has been better in his two most recent road starts.
The Astros used a six-man rotation for a couple of weeks in late June and early July. That strategy could be deployed again in September if the team calls up reinforcements from the minor league ranks.
Harrell is scheduled to pitch the series finale against the Nats on Thursday night. The Astros will miss Strasburg in the four-game series. Washington’s ace will next toe the rubber on Friday in Arizona.