Astros: benefits of 9-man bullpen with Joe Smith’s return

Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /

The Houston Astros activated Joe Smith from the 10-day injured list, as their corresponding move was optioning utility man Taylor Jones to Triple-A Sugar Land. This move brings the bullpen to nine arms and the bench to three players, but we have seen this before with manager Dusty Baker.

The bullpen is the weakest link on the team, so adding another arm into the mix helps sustain reinforcements for longer games. The rotation has been stellar getting past the six inning mark, but not every start will be a quality one.

With Joe Smith returning, why are the Astros carrying nine relievers?

Smith went on the injured list during the Boston Red Sox series at Fenway Park on June 9. Since he has been gone, the bullpen has seen optionable arms come through and even additions from the minor leagues to the 40-man roster.

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Although struggling with a 6.23 ERA this season, Smith was slowly turning his year around while only allowing three runs in his last eight appearances. The veteran was returning at some point, but would you have thought it was for another pitcher with Andre Scrubb and Brandon Bielak on the active roster?

Jose Urquidy is still on the IL, moving the rotation back to a five-man. With the recent struggles out of the ‘pen, it eases the stress by adding Smith and option a position player like Jones. The first baseman and occasional outfielder’s playing time has been reduced, while he didn’t play from an extended stint of late July. This was in part to starters being healthy and being optioned for a short time.

The Astros are in the middle of MLB in regards to bullpen ERA (4.11), so keeping nine relievers around provides more options. The traditional 13 and 13 is being disregarded here, as this moves helps strengthen the weakest part of the team.

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With Jones getting more at bats in the minor leagues, the bench still runs three-deep with Alex Bregman on the IL. The right-hander doesn’t have a set return date but is eyeing a rehab assignment later this month.