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Astros: One month into season, pitching questions abound

May 2, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Mike Fiers (54) heads to the dugout before pitching against the the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
May 2, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Mike Fiers (54) heads to the dugout before pitching against the the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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After a little more than a month of play, there are still plenty of question marks on the Astros’ pitching staff.

We’re into the early stages of May. The Astros sit at 19-10, 4.5 games ahead of the second-place Angels in the AL West. The offense is as good as advertised and the team is showing an incredible degree of resiliency. This team looks and feels like a contender.

Despite that, there are still plenty of question marks on the team’s pitching staff. One preseason question has been answered, with Dallas Keuchel’s return to his ace form. Others remain unanswered, and new ones have since arisen. Here are the team’s biggest pitching questions at this point in the season.

Back of the Rotation

Apr 23, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 23, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Joe Musgrove (59) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

With Collin McHugh starting the season on the disabled list, both Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers ended up in the rotation. Neither has looked particularly worthy of staying there. Fiers has a 5.68 ERA through five starts while giving up a league-high 12 homers. Musgrove has a 5.40 ERA through six starts.

There is little clarity when it comes to McHugh’s possible return date, so it seems Fiers and Musgrove will stay in the rotation for the time being. Even if McHugh does come back and recaptures his old form, it appears the Astros will need to make a trade for a No. 2 or 3 starter before the deadline. If they want to be true World Series contenders, they’ll need the boost.

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Lack of Depth

First McHugh went down. Then Brady Rodgers underwent Tommy John surgery. David Paulino is also on the shelf, while Francis Martes is struggling. If the Astros had suffered an injury in the rotation in April, they only had one realistic in-house candidate to take the spot — long reliever Brad Peacock. Chris Devenski could start in a pinch, but he’s simply too valuable out of the bullpen.

Triple-A Fresno’s rotation is a mess. The team picked up Casey Coleman and saw the return of Mike Hauschild, so there is some help being added. Still, there is a startling lack of major-league ready pitching depth in the organization right now. It’s likely Jeff Luhnow will continue scouring the country for additional depth because it’s almost imperative at this point.

Left-Handed Relief

Apr 12, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Tony Sipp (29) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Tony Sipp (29) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Astros started the season with Tony Sipp as their only left-handed relief option. His ERA is serviceable at 4.05, but his other stats are awful. He’s given up six hits and seven walks in 6.2 innings. His 1.95 WHIP is considerably higher than in his rough 2016 season (1.60). In short, it doesn’t bode well for a quick turnaround.

In addition to the rotation, the Astros will likely need to make a move here as well. Being able to get lefthanded hitters out will be even more important in the postseason, and they simply can’t put that burden on Sipp’s shoulders. Left-handed batters are hitting .313 off him this season.

What’s with Gregerson?

No one foresaw this. Luke Gregerson has been as steady as they come, but he’s gotten off to an awful start. He has an unsightly 8.49 ERA in 14 appearances. His hit rate, walk rate and home run rate have all spiked dramatically. He coughed up five runs over two outings against the Rangers.

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The good news is all the damage has come in just three of his 14 appearances. However, he gave up multiple runs just twice last year, and he’s already done so three times this year. One has to wonder if Gregerson is dealing with some sort of injury or mechanical problem. Either way, the Astros need him to turn things around quickly.

***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***

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