March 8th: The Fifth Spot Battle Thus Far


Though it is only eight days into spring training, we can see the race for the fifth spot in the rotation begin to take shape. Those who are in contention have already had an opportunity to pitch, and it has faired as follows:

Jordan Lyles: The young contender has pitched 5 innings so far, and they have been commendable. Allowing only 4 hits and surrendering 2 walks, Lyles has managed to avoid a blow up inning and only allowed one unearned run to score. If Jordan continues to shine in the spring, he may give Mills no chance to keep him down in the minors. Keep in mind that Lyles is only 20 years old and that this is the first spring training in which he has been given the go ahead to make starts for the team. Unlike the other prime two candidates, Rowland-Smith and Figueroa, Lyles is trying to earn a spot on the roster and avoid the going back to the farm. By pitching under that kind of pressure, Lyles is proving that he can deal with the stigma of pitching in the majors.

Nelson Figueroa: In my opinion, this job is his to lose. Figueroa came into the spring with starts for the Astros under his belt, and performed well in the brick and sand. After starting and winning against the Mets, Figgy notched his second win for the spring, but that is not what was impressive. In the first inning, he backed himself up against the wall by allowing a one out single, a walk, and another single to load up the bases. By only allowing one run to score on a sacrifice fly, Nelson demonstrated something that he did all last season: he can get out of jams. Historically, Figueroa has a tendency to allow runners on base with his career 1.42 WHIP. But, after posting a career low in the category with a commendable 1.27, he showed the Astros that he can be effective when he keeps the base paths clear. So far this spring, his WHIP this spring is 1.40, but it would be below one if you subtract the one inning from today’s game in which he allowed three combined walks and hits. Keep an eye on Figueroa’s WHIP because it will seal his fate for the fifth spot.

I stated that Figueroa is the favorite for the race, and it isn’t because he has the most talent. With Lyles being the second youngest pitcher in the PCL last season, there is reason to believe that Wade will want to give him more time to develop, but on a talent level, he is par with Nelson. If Figueroa continues to be reliable, it will give the Astros more to time to allow Lyles to sharpen his ability in the minors and avoid putting him in the majors too early.

Ryan Rowland-Smith: Last off season, I defended the signings of Lyon and Lindstrom, and they proved their contracts. Wade will have to let Rowland-Smith do his talking again this year because I can already hear the nay sayers. RS had only one month last year in which his ERA was below 5, but a defense could be that he was playing for the Mariners and had to work around their lack of offense which caused him to implode. Well… now he plays for the Astros who give the Mariners a run for their money in ineptitude on offense. In 2009, though, he was able to post a 3.74 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for the same ball club. His 1.67 WHIP and 9.00 ERA so far this spring makes you wonder early if we are going to get the 2010 or 2009 Rowland-Smith, but, just like Figueroa, pay close attention to RS’s WHIP because that is the most truthful stat in the spring.

In conclusion, I can imagine that this fan base wants to see Lyles get the nod and see a deprived farm produce a star of the future. That made for TV story is not what we need, though. The last thing we want to do is put a young gun out there when he is not ready to lead a for sale team to a .500 year. We have plenty of time to let him develop, and we do not need to risk an injury to his arm or to the six inches between his ears. He may be the most talented of these three pitchers, but expect Figueroa to be tapped for the fifth spot thus far.

Trevor Harris is a contributing writer for Climbing Tal’s Hill. Click here to follow him on Twitter and click here to follow CTH.