Jake Odorizzi’s Return Doesn’t Go As Planned

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 04: Jake Odorizzi #17 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Minute Maid Park on July 04, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 04: Jake Odorizzi #17 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Minute Maid Park on July 04, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Jake Odorizzi was activated off the 15-day IL and made his return to the mound on Monday, but the veteran right-hander left plenty to be desired in his first Major League start since mid-May. He gave up 5 earned runs on 9 hits across just 4 innings, although the Astros did manage a brilliant comeback win against the lowly Royals in the series opener on Monday.

Right from the start, Odorizzi did not look like his best self. He struck out Whit Merrifield to kick the afternoon off, but then loaded the bases with a walk and 2 singles against, which allowed Hunter Dozier to drive in a couple of runs to give the Royals an early lead. The second inning did not get any easier, as Andrew Benintendi smoked a ground ball against the shift to drive in another two runs.

The loudest hit he gave up was a towering upper-deck home run to promising rookie catcher MJ Melendez. He deposited an up-and-in fastball 385 feet away to right field, at an exit velocity of 107 mph. The home run was the only one Odorizzi allowed, but it was 1 of the 5 batted balls he surrendered that came off the bat at over 95 mph. He only managed to strike out 3 batters, his lowest total in a couple of starts. The 5 earned runs he allowed are a season-high.

Just by watching the game, it appeared as though Odorizzi was getting short-changed by a lot of unlucky bloop singles on pitches that he didn’t execute terribly. For example, Hunter Dozier got slightly jammed on the pitch that he converted into his 2-run single. However, Statcast suggests that the only extremely lucky hit the Royals got was Michael A. Taylor’s infield single to lead off the 2nd inning (expected batting average of .280).

There is some truth to the claim that the Royals did not “earn” the 9 hits they got off Odorizzi, but the fact remains that he did not generate swings and misses when he had to. He induced just 9 whiffs on 50 swings, and only 19% of his 90 total pitches went for either a whiff or a called strike. There were no notable dips in his velocity and his spin rate actually increased compared to his season average. He simply did not make good pitches when the complexion of the inning depended on it, and the Royals pounced on those shortcomings.

It’s unrealistic to expect a pitcher to be razor-sharp in their first game after coming back from an injury, especially a lengthy one, and Odorizzi was having a nice stretch of games before getting hurt. However, the Astros’ rotation had been so dominant over the previous week that some fans questioned whether it was worth it to interrupt that rhythm by getting Odorizzi back into the mix. It isn’t much of a secret that the way the Astros’ pitching staff was set up before this series was working perfectly, but at the same time, he can’t find his way back unless he gets playing time at the Major League level.

The understandable fact that it takes time to return to form after an injury, as well as the ridiculous run Houston’s rotation was on before this series, may mean that Odorizzi’s role in the staff may have to be altered for the sake of staying with what works. No sane person would take Cristian Javier out of the rotation again after what he has accomplished as of late. Odorizzi might simply be the odd man out in this situation, and that notion was prevailing even before his start this afternoon.

Nevertheless, it’s still worth mentioning how the Astros’ offense and bullpen came to save the day. Despite all the worry about Odorizzi, the team managed to turn this into one of their best games of the season and ensure that he didn’t end up with a losing decision. Led by Kyle Tucker and capped off by a Yordan Alvarez walk-off home run, the Astros stormed back to start the week off with a 7-6 victory.