These past two weeks have been frustrating for those watching and playing. A lack of depth in high-leverage arms to missed opportunities have tarnished the record of the Houston Astros. To make things even worse, healthy arms are only returning in absence of new identified injuries.
This discussion is getting repetitive, and while we wish we had some big plan to fix the whole team, our only information comes from the reporters and what statistics and video tell us. We can theorize new ways of fixing the team all we want, but explaining to readers about how to prevent injuries is above our pay grade.
The Astros’ bullpen has been unreliable, so here are three moves that need to happen at some point.
Manager Dusty Baker, general manager James Click and pitching coach Brent Strom are all aware of the recent struggles, so there is no reason to assume they are doing nothing to help their team win. With missed opportunities being transparent at the plate this past week, blown plays in the field and leads by the bullpen have also contributed to the cause. All around, it’s been tough baseball to watch, but nothing sticks out more than the bullpen.
More arms are returning, while Blake Taylor, Jose Urquidy and Lance McCullers are the next anticipated additions. Kent Emanuel might not be hitting the bump soon, as the left-hander is receiving a second opinion on his recent injury, which is never a good sign.
Acquire a veteran arm
This one might seem like the only possible move of not happening whatsoever this season, but at some point, a team will need a veteran addition to make that postseason push. The Astros have done it before with Justin Verlander, but with not much to sacrifice off the farm, a veteran reliever should still be on their agenda.
Click has stated that at the moment the team is only looking to in-house talent as replacements. The luxury tax threshold has continued to be pesky for these kinds of theories, while the organization still borders it. I have personally campaigned for pitchers like Shane Greene, Jeremy Jeffress and Oliver Perez to be evaluated, but like many can guess, they aren’t looking at my opinion.
The Astros can wait all they want on their pitching staff to be 100% healthy again, but the bullpen scuffling isn’t a new occurrence. If you watched the 2020 season, you know this is just rolling over. Evaluating more trade targets seems like a waste of words, if the front office isn’t looking for one.
Move on from Joe Smith
This may sting for some but feel amazing for others. Joe Smith was once a high-leverage arm for the Astros and isn’t a pitcher easily dislikable, but in the business of baseball, you can’t get attached. This Astros’ team is looking to compete for the World Series, but they aren’t gaining much from the inconsistencies of Smith.
While still down significant arms, the Twitter movement of designating Smith for assignment isn’t doing anyone any good. Smith is also not optionable, but there isn’t enough evidence of bringing more prospects into the mix and dumping the sidewinder. While giving into soft contact and being in the 89th percentile in hard hit percentage, Smith looks to be getting unlucky in the eyes of advanced metrics.
His $4 million isn’t burning a hole in the payroll, so contract dumping the right-hander wouldn’t free too much room for a rental at the trade deadline. There are reasons why Smith will stay on the roster for now, but his up and down season could easily lead to his departure.
Option Andre Scrubb in next pitching transaction
Optioning a pitcher with Andre Scrubb’s potential is always a tough sight, but it would be better for both sides. Command isn’t there for the right-hander, as he has surrendered nine walks to his 10 strikeouts. Enoli Paredes has been in the same boat, as the right-hander was replaced by Jake Odorizzi, who had an electric start fall into the pit of the Astros’ bullpen.
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Like Paredes, Scrubb was quickly ramped to the majors in 2020, while injuries lurked. This narrative has been seen before, but with a shortened season full of new faces and names, not many fans are making the connection. The Astros do have Smith back plus the addition of Ryne Stanek, but there are similarities in the lack of high-leverage and experience.
Scrubb has lived well by his breaking pitch, but his fastball rises and has lost control. While having the most innings of any Houston reliever in 2020 (23.2), it is time for Scrubb to work more in Triple-A. In his last seven games, the right-hander has a 8.53 ERA in 6.1 innings pitched. His five walks mirror his five strikeouts, while loading the bases continues to nudge in runs.
With the injuries spreading further than the pitching staff, one missed transaction was Garrett Stubbs replacing Jason Castro in a surprising fashion. There wasn’t any report of an injury until the move happened. Yordan Alvarez is still being evaluated, as a homecoming could occur “early next week.”
The Astros are back on the field on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. with Zack Greinke on the mound. After winning consecutive games in extra innings, the San Diego Padres will look to sweep on the road.