The bullpen has been the weakest link for the AL West leaders all year. While retooling this past offseason, the Houston Astros have been hit with a lack of high-leverage arms on top of injuries circling relievers.
With Kyle Tucker coming off the COVID-19 injured list, he will have to be added back to a 40-man roster that is currently full. The safest bet of the roster spot he takes belongs to either Tyler Ivey or Kent Emanuel, who are both out for the season due to their respected injuries.
Along with that move, there are two 60-day IL pitchers currently rehabbing with minor-league teams in Josh James and Austin Pruitt. Both pitchers would immensely benefit an unexperienced bullpen at the moment, while Joe Smith and Enoli Paredes are both on the 10-day IL without a timetable to return.
With three pitchers on rehab assignments, how will it affect the 40-man roster and bullpen?
Austin Pruitt started his first rehab assignment with the Low-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers on June 15. In 2.1 innings over two appearances, the right-hander allowed three runs on five hits. This isn’t something too much to worry about, especially for a pitcher coming off a fractured elbow that has kept him out of baseball for over a year.
Pruitt traveled with the Astros to Baltimore to throw a bullpen with the team, before returning to Houston for his next rehab assignment with the Sugar Land Skeeters. He was the last trade under the Jeff Luhnow regime and had 4.87 ERA over 199.2 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays.
He is expected to return right after the All-Star Break, which could put him in contention to take Ivey or Emanuel’s seat (whichever one is left on the roster). By the look of the 26-man roster, we don’t know the stance of the bullpen at that time, but Pruitt has versatility as a starter and a reliever, so he could easily take an optionable pitcher’s place.
There is always one pitcher that fans have high hopes for but never finds his groove at the major-league level. That has been Josh James’ career, and after a hip injury in 2020, his surgery and setbacks have halted his progression back to the show. James is another right-hander that can eat innings, as seen in his career.
James hasn’t had the command to control his heater over his last two seasons, but the right-hander is headed to Fayetteville this week. He is another pitcher similar to Pruitt’s role of being a starter when needed, and while looking to be behind Pruitt, James could be taking Francis Martes’ roster spot, if no other players’ injuries are worth the 60-day IL. We haven’t heard much more on Alex Bregman or Smith, but there is no reason to speculate their cases. Like we have pointed out before, DFAs and trades will be a factor down the stretch for a team reaching full health.
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While going from a last-man out to the innings leader for the bullpen, Bryan Abreu has been looked to by manager Dusty Baker at a high rate. His calf injury came from shagging balls during batting practice, that eventually had him on crutches. When the team is 100% healthy, Abreu would most likely not return to the major-league roster, but at this point, Baker would like his go-to guy back.
Abreu is another guy who was slightly rushed to show to fill a void, but he also wasn’t putting in work the season before. We have seen him call out teammates in press conferences to choking leads, but Baker still trusts him. Before his injury, the right-hander posted a 4.21 ERA over 25.2 innings of work.
While being on the 10-day IL, Abreu won’t need to be added back to the 40-man roster, but someone will be optioned. He is headed to Sugar Land to start a rehab assignment this week.
The bullpen already stands in the bottom three of usage for the month of June, so having more experience can go a long way even with the starters going deep. In the news of another mystery pitcher, Pedro Baez threw 20 pitches off a mound in West Palm Beach. While also a 60-day IL pitcher, he will need a corresponding move to return, but that’s a scenario for another day.
Tucker is anticipated to return on Wednesday, along with third base coach and outfield specialist, Gary Pettis, possibly returning by the first of July. Around the farm, the Astros’ top pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Alex Santos, has been promoted to Fayetteville at 19-years-old.