Should Astros be concerned about Roberto Osuna’s struggles?

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 03: Pitcher Roberto Osuna #54 of the Houston Astros throws in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 03: Pitcher Roberto Osuna #54 of the Houston Astros throws in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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Astros closer Roberto Osuna has struggled of late, prompting speculation and frustration among fans.

If Astros closer Roberto Osuna wasn’t already under the fans’ collective microscope, he certainly is now. We all know the story — Wade Miley pitched eight stellar innings on Tuesday against Oakland. He came to the mound in the ninth to try to finish the game but allowed the first two runners to reach base, prompting A.J. Hinch to call for Osuna.

On an 0-2 count, Matt Olson took Osuna deep to give the A’s the lead, erasing Miley’s chance at a win. This was the fourth time in nine July appearances that Osuna yielded a run, and he owns a 6.35 ERA since the All-Star break. It was also his fourth blown save of the season in 26 save opportunities. In his defense, though, Tuesday’s game was the first time he allowed an inherited runner to score this season

Not helping his case is many fans already have a poor opinion of him due to the circumstances under which he was traded to Houston. Not much has been heard of Osuna’s prior domestic violence issue since the assault charge was withdrawn, but that’s not something that just vanishes from a person’s reputation when they’re in the public light.

The Numbers

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Overall, Osuna’s numbers are still solid. He has a 2.53 ERA on the year and a sparkling 0.891 WHIP, which are both a touch better than his career averages. He’s not Mariano Rivera or even Billy Wagner, but a lot of teams would love to have a closer who puts up those numbers over the course of a season.

However, Osuna hasn’t been the same of late. After earning a save on May 20, his season ERA dipped to 0.42, evidencing how incredibly effective he was in the first part of the season. But since then, he’s allowed 12 earned runs in 21.1 innings, which works out to a 5.06 ERA.

That’s two months, or roughly one third of a season, in which the team’s closer has sported an ERA north of 5.00. That kind of performance will lead to a quick exit in October, so Osuna’s going to have to get things figured out between now and then.

He’s allowing hits at a lower rate than he did last year, and his strikeout rate has rebounded from a big dip in 2018. But his home run and walk rates have spiked, indicating he’s had some trouble hitting his spots. Pitching coach Brent Strom will need to work some magic to get Osuna’s command back under control, since his repertoire is good but not overpowering.

The Outlook

Luckily for Osuna, the Astros still hold a 6.5 game division lead, so Hinch doesn’t have to make any rash decisions. He can give Osuna some time to get things right without having to make a change at the back of the bullpen just yet. If he continues to struggle, Ryan Pressly should be able to step in admirably.

How Jeff Luhnow approaches this trade deadline will be telling as to what he thinks of his bullpen, which is strong overall. If he makes a move for another late-inning reliever, it could signal that he’s concerned about Osuna’s ability to right the ship. If the Astros can’t rely on Osuna in October, that creates a big void they’ll have to fill.

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Osuna will be given every opportunity to get it right, but if he continues pitching the way he has for the past two months, he won’t be the closer in the playoffs.

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