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Astros: Pressly, Peacock nearing return, creating roster crunch

SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 13: Reliever Ryan Pressly #55 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch during the eighth inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on April 13, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. The Astros won 3-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 13: Reliever Ryan Pressly #55 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch during the eighth inning of a game against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on April 13, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. The Astros won 3-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /
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Astros pitchers Ryan Pressly and Brad Peacock are soon to return to the team.

Two key Astros pitchers who’ve been on the shelf are nearing their return. Ryan Pressly is set to be activated prior to Friday’s series opener against Baltimore. Meanwhile, Brad Peacock is ramping up his rehab assignment with the team gearing him up to be a reliever.

Thanks to Aaron Sanchez‘s immediate success, Peacock is not currently needed in the rotation. This gives the team the option to use him in multi-inning relief situations, strengthening and lengthening the bullpen. However, this may also lead to a bit of a roster crunch.

When Pressly is activated, the Astros will likely send Garrett Stubbs back to Triple-A since they’re currently carrying three catchers. That will bring the team back to an eight-man bullpen. After that, though, there is no obvious candidate to be sent down. Unless someone ends up on the IL between now and then, someone may lose his roster spot.

We can rule out the five pitchers currently in the rotation. Peacock is out of options, so he cannot be sent down without the Astros losing him to waivers. Roberto Osuna, Pressly and Will Harris are safe. Joe Smith hasn’t allowed a run since coming off the IL, and Joe Biagini was just acquired, so they’re likely safe as well. Josh James may not return until September, so he wouldn’t be a factor here.

This leaves three pitchers — Hector Rondon, Chris Devenski and Collin McHugh — who could end up as the odd man out. Any one of them could conceivably get the axe.

Rondon’s Case

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Rondon provided solid value in 2018 and saved 15 games, but this year hasn’t gone as well. He carries a 4.14 ERA and has seen his strikeout rate drop precipitously to the lowest since his rookie season. His walk and home run rates have also jumped, and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) finds him somewhat fortunate to have a 4.14 ERA.

Recently, he’s put together six straight scoreless outings, though he did struggle in one of those. His ERA is also inflated by one disastrous outing on July 16 in which he allowed six runs, and he hasn’t been scored upon since.

Rondon is a free agent at the end of the season, so the Astros wouldn’t lose much if they designated him for assignment. There’s also a question as to whether he would even make the postseason roster or factor in to any playoff games. If he avoids disaster until Peacock returns, though, he has a good chance of keeping his spot.

Devenski’s Case

In one respect, sending Devenski down makes the most sense. Of these three, he’s the only one with minor league options remaining, so the Astros could send him down to Triple-A without risking losing him, and could then call him back up in September. His 4.32 ERA on the season hardly helps his case.

However, in some respects he seems to have turned a corner. After walking four batters and watching his ERA balloon to 4.91 on July 14, he’s dropped it back down nearly 60 points. In that span, he’s only walked two batters in 9.2 innings, and for a guy who had been walking batters at a career-high rate, this is important.

Devenski is also known to be effective against lefties, which helps his case in a bullpen with no left-hander. If he continues to pitch like he has the past few weeks, he could prove himself too valuable to send to the minors.

McHugh’s Case

It’s certainly a surprise to think of the Astros cutting McHugh, but he’s been the team’s least effective pitcher this season. After struggling in the rotation and ending up on the IL, he rejoined the bullpen where he excelled in 2018. Things have not gone quite as well, however.

He dropped his ERA from 6.37 all the way down to 5.02 after moving to the pen, but then had three straight rough outings capped off by allowing four runs in one inning on July 31. He’s put together three scoreless outings since then, but he’s essentially in a mop-up role now.

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McHugh is a free agent at the end of the season and seems unlikely to make the postseason roster, so the Astros would have little to lose by designating him for assignment. He can help his case by showing improvement between now and the time Peacock is ready. If he continues to struggle, however, he could leave the team no better choice.

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