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Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch talks about the rotation

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Sep 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock (41) and third baseman Alex Bregman (2) stand on the mound as manager A.J. Hinch (14) makes a pitching change in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 6, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Brad Peacock (41) and third baseman Alex Bregman (2) stand on the mound as manager A.J. Hinch (14) makes a pitching change in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /
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Hinch talks about the Astros rotation on the latest Talking Stros.

Last Wednesday, I was able to get my Christmas wish and Astros manager A.J. Hinch joined Talking Stros. He talked about Alex Cora, the lineup, and how he was the patient with A.J. Reed. He spent 22 minutes talking Astros baseball on the show and gave hints as what to expect in 2017. Could they use a Jose Quintana or Chris Archer? Sure, but let’s hear what Hinch had to say.

When asked about the rotation, Hinch mentions that he “loves the rotation if it’s intact. The injuries we had last year were at a bad time. We didn’t make a move at the deadline, and then we had a couple of pitchers go down in Keuchel and McCullers. That’s a tough blow for any team.” He went on to say that they hung in there a little bit, but it wasn’t enough.

Here are some quotes from Hinch and a little more details to back his statement.

“I did like seeing Joe Musgrove coming up.” While Musgrove made his first MLB appearance out of the bullpen, he has a starter’s mentality. Over the past two season, Musgrove has been one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues. With the Astros, he went 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 62 innings. Last year he had a total of 147 1/3 innings between the minors and MLB, how many innings will they let him pitch.

Mike Fiers rebounded with a better second half than first half.” It is unknown where Fiers fits into the Astros plans for 2017. He went 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 168 2/3 innings in 2016. The splits don’t favor Hinch’s statement. He had a 6-5 record with a 4.04 ERA in the first half. He went 5-3 in the second half with a 4.99 ERA. He did make some good quality starts done the stretch, but he also had some clunkers.

Collin McHugh has been a steady guy.” This is something that I doubted after McHugh made the first start of 2016, but he settled down after a rocky start. After a 19-7 record in 2015, McHugh came back to Earth a little with a 13-10 with a 4.34 ERA. He had a losing record in the first half but had an 8-4 record at the end of the year. There will be some who say that he was the ace at the end of the year.

What to do with Devo?

“We are going to look at Chris Devenski for the rotation this spring.” When Devenski made a start in spring training during the Mexico series, people got to see Devenski’s potential. Hinch was there and saw his performance, so he got the first call from the minors in 2016. Devenski pitched out of the bullpen and rotation in the minors, and he has a devastating changeup. The Astros rookie of the year did not disappoint with a 4-4 record with a 2.12 ERA. He was more efficient out of the bullpen (3-2 with a 1.61 ERA) than in the rotation ( 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA).

“We can beat other teams with the numbers, but the question is, can we keep them on the field? Can we get 30 starts out of McCullers for the first time in his career?” I’m the biggest McCullers fan, maybe third behind his wife and McCullers Maniacs on Twitter. Like George Springer early in his career, he has to answer to the critics about his health. McCullers had 22 MLB starts in 2015 and 14 in 2016, so McCullers needs to stay healthy in 2017. Once he does, watch out AL West foes. He has finished the past two years with the same ERA, a 3.22 ERA. When he came on Talking Stros, he knew that because a fan told him that oddity.

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Will Keuchel return to his ace ways?

“Can we get Dallas Keuchel to bounce back from a tough season physically and mentally?” Honestly, Keuchel was the biggest reason for the Astros struggles in 2016. He is their ace. If he really was hurt at the end of spring training last year, he should have told the staff. After winning the Cy Young in 2015, he fell to a 9-12 record with a 4.55 ERA in 2016. Overuse in 2015 could have been the issue, but two years of excellence is not a fluke. If healthy, he should return to at least his 2014 form. Like the Rockets, the Astros go as their Beard goes.

“If we can stay intact, we have a very durable rotation. I love our chances. We need to get the guys to answer the bell to start the season so we can have a better April.”

Does the centerfield changes affect the pitchers’ psyche?

“The new centerfield renovations could be more challenging for the pitchers because it is a little more reachable.” This was something that I asked Hinch about because of Jose Lima‘s reaction when they moved from the Astrodome to Minute Maid Park. Lima went on to have a very un-Lima Time year in 2000. Looking forward to moving the wall up from 436 to 409 in centerfield, will it phase the Astros pitchers? Hinch felt like it would zero out when it’s all said and done. Listen to hear what he had to say about it.

Next: Does A.J. Reed have a shot to make the Opening Day roster?

Do the Astros have enough starting pitchers? Yes, but as Hinch said, they need to stay healthy and productive all year. With the added offense, a return to the 2015 pitching production will be just enough to win big. If needed, the Astros can add a pitcher at the trade deadline.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference***

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