Astros make flurry of pitching moves as McCullers goes to IL

May 22, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (43) walks off the field after he pitches against the Texas Rangers during the first inning at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
May 22, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. (43) walks off the field after he pitches against the Texas Rangers during the first inning at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Houston Astros are putting Lance McCullers Jr. on the Injured List, but that’s not all that’s happening.

After a particularly difficult 9-2 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday, the Houston Astros have made a flurry of roster moves ahead of Wednesday’s series finale. The most notable is that Lance McCullers Jr. is headed to the 10-day Injured List with right shoulder soreness. The team is calling up righthander Ralph Garza from Triple-A Sugar Land to take his roster spot.

But all is not lost. The team has also confirmed that starting pitchers Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi will be returning to the rotation this weekend. Valdez will start Friday’s game against the Padres and Odorizzi will take the mound on Saturday, with Zack Greinke starting Sunday’s series finale.

With that being the case, Cristian Javier is being moved to the bullpen and will be available beginning this weekend. The Astros could start Luis Garcia on Monday’s game against the Red Sox, and with Javier being moved to the bullpen, it sounds like Jose Urquidy could possibly be activated in time to start on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, for 40-man roster purposes, Josh James was transferred to the 60-day Injured List, but that won’t impact his timeline. GM James Click said James is throwing off a mound in Florida and could be ready to rejoin the roster in a couple of weeks. However, there is no update on Pedro Baez, who still isn’t throwing off a mound and has no timeline.

What This All Means

The good news is McCullers’ injury is not believed to be serious. Both Click and Dusty Baker said they weren’t concerned, but were mainly erring on the side of caution. He’s been arguably the team’s best starter this season, pitching to a 2.96 ERA in nine starts. He will probably bump Garcia either to the bullpen or the minors when he returns.

Javier being moved to the bullpen was always a likely scenario once the rotation returned to full health, and it looks like that is close to happening. Javier has pitched to a 3.14 ERA and 1.027 WHIP in nine starts, but has averaged only around 5.4 innings per start. His stuff will play up in the bullpen, and the relief corps is in dire need of an effective arm like his.

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Valdez and Odorizzi both had effective rehab starts for Triple-A Sugar Land earlier this week, so it looks like they’re both good to go. Valdez hasn’t pitched yet this season but has seemingly made a miraculous recovery from a broken finger, while Odorizzi has made three starts but allowed nine runs in eight total innings.

Garza, meanwhile, is set to make his major league debut. The 27-year-old right-hander has allowed only one hit and three walks in 6.2 scoreless innings for Triple-A Sugar Land, striking out 11. As is typical of the Astros minor league arms, he can generate plenty of strikeouts but can also be bitten by the free pass. We do know he’s a fan of Whataburger, as he was in the drive-thru line when he got the call that he was being promoted.

Garza could very well be sent back down once Valdez or Odorizzi is officially activated, but if he pitches well he could force the team’s hand. Players like Bryan Abreu and Enoli Paredes have struggled, and both can be optioned to the minors. If the Astros feel like Garza has earned a longer look, they could give Abreu or Paredes some time to work things out in Sugar Land.

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James may be ready by mid-June as well, so help is certainly on the way for a pitching staff that has greatly struggled of late. With so many pitchers returning, it’s getting to be make or break time for the ones who’ve had a hard time recording outs.

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