Opening Day pitching staff could be shaped by injuries


With the Astros only a few days away from their first exhibition game, it is already starting to look like injuries will be a factor when it comes to deciding the Opening Day roster. The pitching staff appears to be the area that will be most affected.

A couple of pitchers are dealing with nagging injuries while others continue to work their way back from going under the knife. Asher Wojciechowski and Jorge De Leon make up the first group.

Wojo, who was already a long shot to make the club out of Spring Training, continues to rest a strained lat muscle in his upper back. Asher had an MRI taken on Monday and the team is still awaiting the results. Either way, Wojciechowski is now behind schedule and it doesn’t look like is going to be ready to pitch by Opening Day.

De Leon is nursing a sore quad muscle. A long shot to claim a bullpen spot, Jorge could be healthy enough to throw a bullpen session within the next few days.

On the road to recovery we find Mark Appel, Jesse Crain, Raul Valdes, and Alex White. After emergency appendectomy surgery late last month, Appel is back to throwing. Last year’s top draft pick is likely to start the season at AA Corpus Christi.

Jesse Crain (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Crain, coming back from biceps surgery, has been slowed by a calf strain this spring. Jesse was able to participate in agility drills this morning but is almost certain to begin the regular season on the disabled list.

Valdes injured his knee playing winter ball and is close to getting back on a mound. If things continue to progress, the lefty could throw a bullpen session within a week’s time.

White, almost a year removed from Tommy John surgery, recently started throwing and is continuing to build arm strength. Alex should start the season in the minors but will probably be in Houston later in the summer.

Bo Porter has announced that Lucas Harrell will start the spring opener against Atlanta on Friday. Matt Albers, Josh Fields, and Peter Moylan are also scheduled to pitch against the Braves. Scott Feldman has been penciled in as Saturday’s starter and Jarred Cosart will get the call on Sunday.

Reading a little into Porter’s decisions, I assume that Harrell is being given every chance to earn the #5 spot in the rotation. Feldman has basically been announced as the Opening Day starter and this alignment seems to indicate that Cosart will be the #2 guy. I would also assume that Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock will follow. Although, Porter has  indicated that Dallas Keuchel has a good chance to claim a rotation spot. Jerome Williams is also in the mix, although he pitched better in relief last season. Anyone in this group that doesn’t make the rotation should find a role in the bullpen.

As for the rest of the ‘pen, Chad Qualls looks to have the inside track at beginning the season as the closer. Fields is also an option. Albers is first in line for a setup role and the injury to Valdes means Kevin Chapman and Darin Downs are the favorites to land spots as situational lefties.

Many of the youngsters that pitched out of the Astros bullpen last season will be hard pressed to break camp with the big league club. Several offseason acquisitions have bolstered the staff to the point that there is some actual depth now. That is an important factor that should help the club overcome some of these early injuries. Newcomer Anthony Bass is another player to keep an eye on.