There are at least a couple of ways to look at Cristian Javier’s 2021 season to date for the Houston Astros. The more cynical among us see him as a failed starter, someone that started hot, only giving up two earned runs across his first four starts and 20.2 innings (0.87 ERA), while striking out 26 and walking six.
The next five starts didn’t go as well as Javier struggled with 15 walks, a 4.82 ERA, a loss and four no decisions that ultimately sent him to the bullpen. Javier’s time in the bullpen began with a low-leverage situation in San Diego on May 28, when he gave up a run in four innings.
On June 3, he entered in the sixth inning of a 5-3 lead in Boston in relief of Jake Odorizzi and proceeded to hurl 47 pitches over four innings of shutout ball, striking out four and walking none, while earning the save.
More importantly, the rest of the bullpen got the day off, which has been Cristian Javier’s M.O.
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In a day and time when managers are less inclined to use relievers on back-to-back days, Javier has been a savior for the Astros. Four times he’s come out of the bullpen and thrown at least three innings, saving appearances, pitches and potentially the arms of his teammates.
He threw 67 pitches in a four-inning stint in his first relief appearance against the Padres and 47 in Boston six days later. On July 10 in Houston, after a short Zack Grienke start, he held the Yankees scoreless for three innings, while giving up a hit, while striking out five and walking one.
Outside of the walks (4.4 per nine IP), Javier’s overall numbers look good. He’s only allowing 5.1 hits, while striking out 11.1 per nine and his WHIP sits at 1.06. On the flip side, there’s a hint of possible regression in the future, as opponents are hitting only .183 and slugging .353 against the 4 seam fastball that Javier throws 60% of the time, while the expected numbers for that pitch are .245 and .489 respectively.
It’s a long season and versatile pitchers like Javier are an invaluable piece of the puzzle of a nearly 1,500 inning slog to the playoffs. Maybe things didn’t work out as a starter. Maybe he’ll get another shot as the season rolls on. Right now, though, he’s eating innings and pitches that allows Dusty Baker to avoid overuse of the bullpen and that’ll pay dividends in September and October.