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Astros: Jose Urquidy could be losing grip on rotation spot

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 08: Jose Urquidy #65 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 08: Jose Urquidy #65 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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Houston Astros starter Jose Urquidy could be losing his grip on a spot in the rotation.

Coming into Spring Training, it was widely presumed that Jose Urquidy was a near-lock to be the No. 4 starter for the Houston Astros. He posted a 3.95 ERA in 41 major league innings in 2019 and capped his season off with a brilliant performance in Game Four of the World Series.

But so far this spring, he hasn’t looked quite the same. In three appearances spanning 8.1 innings, he’s allowed five runs on 10 hits, including a pair of homers. Among those who’ve thrown at least five innings thus far, he has the highest WHIP on the team (1.44), and his opposing batting average is the second-highest (.278), besting only Joe Biagini.

His latest outing was a clunker, as he gave up three runs on six hits in four innings on Sunday. From what we’ve seen so far, Urquidy is going to give up his share of hits, and he’s probably going to have a few clunkers and a few gems mixed in. That’s not the worst thing to have at the back of your rotation if he can eat innings, but it’s not the best either.

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Meanwhile, the competition for the fifth rotation spot has been fierce. Despite a rough outing on Tuesday, Josh James has looked like a new pitcher so far, posting a 3.12 ERA, .167 batting average against and 0.92 WHIP. Austin Pruitt tossed three excellent innings on Monday to lower his spring ERA to an even 2.00 and his WHIP to 0.78. Framber Valdez also struggled on Tuesday, but still has a 3.48 ERA, .194 batting average against and 1.06 WHIP.

Even guys like Bryan Abreu and Cy Sneed, who’ve not been considered top contenders for a rotation spot, have pitched better than Urquidy this spring. This makes one wonder if Urquidy’s presumed lock on a rotation spot might not be a lock at all.

The Outlook

What helps Urquidy’s case is that Justin Verlander may not be ready to begin the season thanks to his lat strain. Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. are locks at the top of the rotation, and so is Verlander once he’s healthy. But the Astros could have three rotation spots to fill at the beginning of the season.

The combination of Urquidy, James, Pruitt and Valdez are going to be the primary contenders for those spots. While Urquidy does have the upper hand thanks to his work from last season, it might be hard to justify giving him a spot if the other three have pitched considerably better.

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There are still a couple of weeks left in Spring Training, so the situation is fluid. But what is clear so far is that Urquidy needs to find better consistency and make an emphatic claim to that fourth starter spot so Dusty Baker doesn’t have to make a difficult decision.

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