Who will take Justin Verlander’s place in the Houston Astros starting rotation?
Astros fans are still reeling from the news that Justin Verlander is headed to the Injured List. The Houston ace may or may not be done for the season, depending on how his couple weeks of rest goes, but he will be out of the rotation for a while at the very least. Even if he does intend to start again, he’ll need at least a few weeks more to get back in game shape.
I’m more of the opinion that Verlander will not return to the rotation this year, as his “forearm strain” seems to mirror that of Lance McCullers Jr in 2018. McCullers rested for a while and then returned to pitch in relief in the postseason before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and it’s possible that Verlander will do the same. Either way, I’d be highly surprised if he made another start this season.
So the Astros, already thin on pitching depth, will have to replace their most important player with someone who has probably never made a major league start. Austin Pruitt, Jose Urquidy and Rogelio Armenteros, who would otherwise be candidates, are not game ready. They’ll need someone else to take the ball in the second game of the Dodgers series on Wednesday.
Before we go any further, I should make it clear that Forrest Whitley is highly unlikely to be that guy. He wasn’t overly impressive in the intrasquad games and he struggled mightily last season in the minors. He needs more development and is an emergency option only.
Cristian Javier is undoubtedly a frontrunner. He made his debut by pitching one inning of relief on Saturday, so he could start on Wednesday if needed. He was lights out in the minors last season and has plenty of potential, so the Astros would be betting on upside here.
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Cy Sneed could be an option as well. He was a starter in the minors and is already stretched out to throw multiple innings. Unlike many of the other candidates, he actually has some major league experience prior to this season, albeit somewhat limited.
Brandon Bielak seems a likely option to be called up to take Verlander’s roster spot, so if he’s prepared, the Astros could elect to just plug him into the rotation and keep everyone else where they are. If they think he’s more stretched out than the rest of the candidates, they could go in this direction.
Brandon Bailey pitched an inning of relief on Sunday and thus makes for a less likely choice. Bryan Abreu likely isn’t stretched out enough, and he struggled in 1.2 innings on Sunday. Enoli Paredes pitched an inning on Friday and could be an option if he’s stretched out enough, but the team might elect to keep him in the bullpen, where quality arms are in short supply.
My money is on either Javier or Sneed, with the possibility of both being used in a tandem (three or four innings apiece). We may not know for sure until the day before or even the day of Wednesday’s game, and this probably isn’t a long-term solution, but it might be the best one for now given the relatively short timeframe.