Lucas Harrell goes to the mound tonight as the Astros attempt to salvage the final game of a four-game series against the Nationals. Harrell will be seeking to win his third straight start. That’s already quite an accomplishment when you consider the alarming rate at which the Astros have been piling up losses. Since Harrell shut out the Padres back on June 27th the Astros have gone 4-33. Ouch! That means Harrell’s back-to-back wins have accounted for fifty percent of the team’s victories in the last 37 games.
It’s almost as if Harrell represents the Astros only chance for victory. The other two Astros wins in that 37 game stretch came from pitchers who are no longer with the club. J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez were sent packing, leaving Harrell as the ace of a rotation that now features Bud Norris and three guys who were recently pitching at the AAA level.
You have to go back to June 26, the day before Harrell’s shutout, to find a game that was won by a current member of the Astros staff. Jordan Lyles picked up the win on that day, but has since gone 0-4 in seven lackluster starts. Lyles actually had a nice outing Tuesday against the Nats, but he has been horrible otherwise. Many are wondering why Lyles has yet to be moved to the bullpen. He has had early success in games, holding hitters to a paltry .217 batting average the first time through the order. But Lyles has been hammered by hitters seeing him for the second or third time in a game. Besides, If Lyles is moved to the ‘pen the Astros will most likely bring up another inexperienced arm from AAA.
So, for now, it looks like it’s Harrell followed by four days of peril – and it could get worse. The Astros are toying with the idea of limiting Harrell’s innings load down the stretch. That’s probably not a bad idea. Having Harrell healthy for 2013 should be among the top priorities for Jeff Luhnow and the Astros.