Astros: Josh James, Framber Valdez slated for rotation

Houston Astros pitchers Josh James and Framber Valdez appear slated to start the season in the rotation.

We may not have a confirmed starting rotation for the Houston Astros for a few days, but we have a pretty good idea right now. Barring further issues, it appears that right-hander Josh James and left-hander Framber Valdez will take the last two spots in the starting rotation behind Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr.

Pitching coach Brent Strom named McCullers and James as the starters for the two exhibition games in Kansas City next week, with McCullers starting on Monday and James on Tuesday. This would line them both up to pitch in games three and four of the regular season on five days rest. This, combined with James’ comment that he’s built up to throw 75-80 pitches, points to him as the fourth starter.

Valdez, in part, may just be the last man standing for the fifth spot. The Astros are already without presumed fourth starter Jose Urquidy, and now their thin pitching staff may be in further peril. Manager Dusty Baker said on Tuesday that pitchers Austin Pruitt, Brad Peacock and Ryan Pressly are “ailing” but initially declined to give any specifics about the nature or severity of their issues.

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We now know that Pruitt is dealing with right elbow inflammation, Peacock is hampered by a right shoulder issue and Pressly is battling a right index finger blister. They’re all considered day-to-day, so hopefully their long-term availability isn’t hampered. But it does put their immediate status in question.

Pruitt had been neck and neck with James for the fifth spot back in Spring Training, but we haven’t seen him pitch in camp. Peacock and Pressly are slated for the bullpen, but any absence from them means the Astros will need Bryan Abreu in relief. Abreu doesn’t appear to be stretched out as a starter anyway, so Valdez is the obvious choice based on his experience.

What To Expect

Astros fans know what they have in James, and that’s a live arm. He’ll put that radar gun to work, but his Achilles’ is the free pass. If he can throw strikes and limit the walks, he’s got a good chance to be effective and give the team some innings.

Valdez is more of a mystery despite having made 13 starts and 21 relief appearances in the majors over the past two years. He struggled to a 5.86 ERA last season, at times looking fantastic and at other times looking lost. After spending the first two months in the bullpen, he made two strong starts in June before the wheels came off.

He’ll need to be more effective with his location in order to be successful, but there’s no question about his stuff. Strom spoke highly of him on Tuesday, stating Valdez looked “exceptional. His stuff was electric.” The potential is there for the 26-year-old southpaw; he just has to harness it.

Beyond James and Valdez, it’s tough to say who the next man up would be. If he’s ready, Pruitt would certainly be that guy, but we don’t know how stretched out he’ll be when he returns. We also don’t know the nature or extent of Urquidy’s issue, so there’s no telling when he’ll be back. If someone else goes down, the Astros would probably turn to either Cristian Javier or Cy Sneed, as both are on the 40-man roster.