The Houston Astros executed a series of moves at the trade deadline to fortify their inconsistent bullpen, but abbreviated outings from their starters continue to burden the overworked relievers.
The Astros (81-58) welcomed a needed scheduled day off Thursday in advance of their three-game weekend series against the visiting Los Angeles Angels (69-71). The series begins Friday.
Houston manager Dusty Baker needed his bullpen to cover five innings in the Astros’ 5-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night. When Astros starter Jose Urquidy lasted only three innings in the series finale Wednesday afternoon, the bullpen was tasked with extended duty.
The results were not favorable as right-handers Phil Maton and Ryan Pressly, both working on consecutive days, surrendered two-run base hits while left-hander Blake Taylor allowed a two-run homer in the ninth inning that enabled the Mariners to secure an 8-5 victory.
The bullpen fortifications will provide little benefit if the Astros’ starters fail to deliver length.
“It’s hard when you go to the bullpen every day and on consecutive days like that,” Baker said. “The guys weren’t sharp that are ordinarily sharp.”
Left-hander Framber Valdez (9-5, 3.08 ERA) has the starting assignment in the series finale for the Astros.
Valdez will look to join right-handers Lance McCullers Jr. (11-4), Zack Greinke (11-5) and rookie Luis Garcia (10-6) as 10-game winners on the Houston starting staff. He has alternated wins and losses over his past six decisions and is 3-3 with a 3.25 ERA over his past seven starts.
Valdez is 4-3 with a 4.27 ERA in nine career appearances (five starts) against the Angels. He has not faced the Angels this season.
Right-hander Shohei Ohtani (9-1, 2.97) is scheduled to start for the Angels on Friday.
Ohtani has won his past eight decisions and has posted a 3.09 ERA with 85 strikeouts over 75 2/3 innings in that span, with the Angels going 10-3 in those starts.
He has faced the Astros once in 2021, allowing one run on four hits and one walk with a season-high 10 strikeouts over seven innings in the Angels’ 5-1 road loss on May 11. Ohtani did not factor into the decision.
Ohtani is 0-1 with a 4.30 ERA over three career starts against Houston.
Ohtani leads the majors with 43 home runs and paces the AL with a .608 slugging percentage entering play Thursday, totals that combined with his success on the mound, make him the presumptive league MVP. With sluggers Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon sidelined for most of the season, the Angels have relied on Ohtani to provide the bulk of their offense and to serve as their most formidable threat.
After falling into an eight-run hole in the second inning against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday, the Angels clawed back to within three runs before going down in order and quietly in the ninth. Ohtani was primed to pinch-hit if he came to the plate representing the tying run in the 8-5 loss.
“I love the way we came back,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “We kept fighting until the very end. A variety of different guys had good at-bats and it was set up if we got enough guys on base Shohei was going to be in the right spot there at the end.
“I keep talking about my guys: they come in ready to play every night.”
–Field Level Media