Astros Rotation Notes: Oswalt, McCullers, and Morton

Feb 15, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) plays long toss during spring training workouts at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 15, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) plays long toss during spring training workouts at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Astros pitchers won’t have to waste their energy to throw four high pitches anymore during intentional walks anymore.

This Saturday, you will be hearing an umpire scream ‘Play Ball’ as the 2017 Spring schedule kicks off. The Astros open their Spring schedule versus the Detroit Tigers at Joker Merchant Stadium in Lakeland. It was announced who will start the game, and it is Brad Peacock. It was not likely it would be Lance McCullers or Dallas Keuchel. These two might get into a game in the first week of March, but the team is being cautious with them.

Let’s take a look at some of the news about the Astros starting pitching staff!

Roy Oswalt visits Astros camp.

Oswalt makes a return to Florida to take part in spring training. Not as a player, those days are over, but as a guest instructor. According to Brian McTaggart, A.J. Hinch has tried to get Oswalt out to camp the past two years. Oswalt, now 39-years-old, has not played baseball since 2013. Which current Astros player did Oswalt play with?

That would be Carlos Beltran, whom he was teammates with back in 2004. Beltran makes his return 13 years later, but Oswalt is just here temporarily. He felt that he wanted to help the young pitchers by sharing some of the knowledge he learned in his career. He focused on durability, being able to go deep into games.

According to McTaggart, Oswalt preached to the pitchers to prepare their arms and bodies to do more. He described the mental approach that led to his own personal durability. Most people prepare to pitch 200 innings. Instead, set a goal for 300 innings, then pitching 220 innings won’t be that bad.

Lance McCullers thinks the rotation is underrated.

McCullers addressed the rotation with reporters, via McTaggart. He stated that the Astros had the top ERA in the rotation in 2015. McCullers said that “the Astros finished in the middle of the pack last year with the injuries and guys not pitching to their standard.”

McCullers feels like they have underrated depth in the rotation. Behind the big three starters, Keuchel, McCullers, and Collin McHugh, Hinch has some other options. Mike Fiers, Charlie Morton, Chris Devenski, and Joseph Musgrove are a few names to know. The surprise could be flame thrower Francis Martes who is drawing early comps to Johnny Cueto or McCullers himself.

McCullers also feels healthy and ready to ramp up his bullpens to get ready to appear in a game. The Astros will be cautious with their emerging ace.

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Astros want Charlie Morton to use more curve balls.

According to John Perrotto, Morton said that the Astros were really after him. Morton said the Astros contacted him the first day they were allowed to, and a deal was struck eight days later. Coming off an injury, Morton was unsure on what the market for him would be. The Stros made it easy by creating and fulfilling that market with a two-year, $14 million dollar contract.

Perrotto said that the Astros analytics department was impressed with Morton’s spin rate on his curveball. Morton is known mostly as a sinker-ball pitcher. But the team wants him to throw more curveballs. If Brett Strom and company can keep Morton healthy and throwing more curves, he could be a boost to this year’s squad.

MLB does away with throwing pitches during an intentional walk.

I will write a deeper piece on a new rule change in MLB later. The pitcher no longer has to throw the four pitches for an intentional walk. Instead, the manager will come out of the dugout and signal to the umpire about a walk. This is done to speed up the game, but it will also limit the pitch count of the pitchers. Potentially, this could lead to pitchers going deeper in games, but not by much.

Next: Astros: 4 Rookie hitters who will have big roles in 2017

While this could help speed things up, it takes the excitement away from a wild pitch intentional walk. Maybe baseball knows what they are doing, but it does not seem like it should make too much difference.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference***