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Astros: will the pitching staff benefit with recent shuffle?

Jun 30, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Hartman (69) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 30, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryan Hartman (69) delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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After a month of offensive and rotational dominance, the Houston Astros split a series in Detroit, before being swept at home by the O’s. Frustration, lack of rest and injuries circle a team hitting the backend of their 20-game stretch without an off day.

You don’t expect a rebuilding team that lacks offense, effective starters and a lack of a respectable road record sweep a contender, but this seems to be a reoccurring phenomenon for the 2021 Astros. A.J. Hinch had their number in both series, but this is over, as the season is 81 games from completion.

Frustrations circle the past week, but will recent roster move benefit the Astros?

Before Wednesday’s competition, the Astros placed Martin Maldonado on the bereavement list, which means he is still on the 40-man roster. The reasoning wasn’t disclosed, but his time away is limited to three to seven games. As a corresponding move, Garrett Stubbs was recalled, but it also leaves Jason Castro with more opportunities over the next few games.

In the rotation, Jose Urquidy was placed on the 10-day IL with shoulder discomfort once again. While hitting the list a few weeks ago, his MRI results showed the same tightness and inflammation as last time. Manager Dusty Baker had anticipated it to be in a different spot, but he isn’t expected to be out too long.

As a corresponding move, the Astros claimed the contract of Ryan Hartman from Triple-A Sugar Land, while Francis Martes was DFA’d in the process. Hartman’s call up to not only the 40-man roster but also the show came as a surprise. Their are 60-day IL pitchers in rehab assignments, but the left-hander made his debut on Wednesday. Hartman worked through 2.1 innings, allowing one run on three hits with two strikeouts.

The 40-man roster still houses Tyler Ivey, who will likely miss the remainder of the season. Joe Smith, Bryan Abreu and Enoli Paredes are on the 10-day IL but are all pitching with the Skeeters on rehab assignments, so their eventual returns back to the active roster come with corresponding options. The case is different for Austin Pruitt (Triple-A) and Josh James (Low-A), while the two 60-day pitchers are on their respective rehab assignments.

Hartman was a starter with the Skeeters, and while taking the seat of Martes on the 40-man roster, this now leaves the two-time PED user exposed to waivers. Martes returned to baseball this past month, but his command in no where near what was expected from the former top prospect. He can either be claimed off waivers, traded or out-righted to the minor leagues. It doesn’t look like Martes is in the future plans of the Astros.

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Hartman was added for starting help with recent injuries burning through the roster, and while pitchers like Brandon Bielak, Peter Solomon and Nivaldo Rodriguez haven’t been promising, Hartman adds depth.

The bullpen is weak, and the bench is short, so adding Hartman helps respond to the four 40-man roster pitchers that weren’t contributing in any fashion.

One return could take Ivey’s roster spot, but where do they clear way for the other one? Jairo Solis and Forrest Whitley aren’t worth placing on the 60-day, as it starts their service time clock. Two dark horses could be Alex Bregman and Aledmys Diaz, while they would be retroactive to their 10-day IL placement. The two are expected to be out another month.

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Umpire issues were frustrating on Wednesday, as the Astros dropped game three, 5-2. The Astros travel north to Cleveland to open a four-game series on Thursday at 6:10 p.m. with Framber Valdez matching up with right-hander J.C. Mejia.

In the dugout, Joe Espada returned to the Astros’ staff, after being monitored for an illness at his home. And at the third base line, Gerry Pettis is finally brining his windmill back to Houston, as he quarantines before he jumps back into the swing of things.

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