HOUSTON,TX- MAY 23: (EDITORS NOTE: Multiple exposure was used in this image) Brandon Lyon #37 of the Houston Astros pitches in the 8th inning against the Chicago Cubs on May 23, 2012 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
What a week it's been for Astros pitching. Both the starter's and the bullpen have really performed well over the last week. As a whole the pitching staff has the second lowest team ERA (2.86) in the National League, second only to the Dodgers whom they will ironically be visiting this weekend. The staff's FIP is fourth in the NL at 2.98, and the 1.3 WAR provided over that time frame is just below the 1.4 provided by the Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals.
Let's start with Bud Norris who has been amazing in his past two starts. He is 2-0 with 14 innings pitched, and a 0.64 ERA over his past two starts. He's also allowed just 9 hits, 5 walks, and 17 strikeouts over that time frame. During the month of May Bud is striking out 27.45% of the batters he faces according to texasleaguers.com, while only walking 8.82% of the batters he faced. In short Bud has been good. Maybe a little too good as his FIP of 2.54 (still outstanding) is significantly higher than his 0.64 ERA. This is in large part due to the fact that he has stranded every baserunner he allowed over the last two starts, and also because hitters probably won't maintain a .240 batting average on everything they put in play. Still Bud is in the zone in May, and hopefully he can stay hot.
J.A. Happ also had a very good past two starts. He pitched a total of 12 innings and had a 0.75 ERA while recording a K/9 rate of 7.50. The biggest improvement Happ made over those two starts is the fact that he only had a BB/9 rate of 2.25. Control has been a big part of Happ's struggles this year, and he's fared well when he's been able to limit his free passes. Two starts ago Mills indicated that Happ had been working on some mechanical things, and so far it appears to be working.
Mills said Happ did some things different mechanically, but he wouldn't go into specifics. Snyder said Happ went back to what had made him successful in the past, relying on his four-seam fastball -- and not as many cutters -- with an effective changeup and using his curveball to put hitters away.
"When he's forced to do that, that creates more conviction out of him, and it showed tonight," Snyder said. "He had everything working."
Wandy continues to produce quality outings. He allowed 3 earned runs in 6 innings against the Rangers over the weekend. This was only the 3rd time in his 10 starts that he has allowed 3 or more earned runs in an outing. Overall he finished the week with 13 innings pitched, and allowed 4 earned runs. He's still not striking out as many batters as he did last year, but continues to induce weak contact.
Lucas Harrell was another one of the Astros pitchers lucky enough to face the Rangers powerful offense this weekend and he performed reasonably well. He gave up 4 runs in 5.2 innings, but only one of those runs were earned. Control was still a problem for Harrell who walked three batters in the outing. Catcher Chris Snyder and Harrell had a game plan to pitch to contact and hope the Rangers hit several groundouts, but Harrell ended up striking out 6 batters.
Jordan Lyles did not fare as well against the Rangers. He had his worst outing of the year and gave up 6 earned runs in 5 innings pitched. Most all of the damage was done in the first inning though, and once he settled down he only allowed 1 run over the next 4 innings. He made several mistakes over the plate in that first inning, and a good Rangers lineup made him pay. He still recorded 6 strikeouts, but also walked 3 batters in his 5 innings of work.
The Regulators have been fantastic lately. The bullpen as a whole pitched a total of 20.1 innings over the last seven days, and recorded an ERA of 2.66 and an FIP of 1.68. Brett Myers, Brandon Lyon, Wesley Wright, and Rhiner Cruz combined to throw 10.1 innings of scoreless ball while recording 13 strikeouts against 0 walks. Wilton Lopez was solid and allowed 1 earned run in 4 innings pitched. Fernando Rodriguez and Fernando Abad, who both had been scuffling a little, also had pretty decent weeks and only allowed 1 run apiece to score. F-Rod struck out 4 batters in 3 innings, and Abad struck out 2 batters in 2 innings. Neither pitcher walked a batter. The only relief pitcher to have a bad week was Enerio Del Rosario who allowed 4 hits and 3 earned runs in his 1 inning pitched.
Both the Astros starters and relievers had a pretty good week. After getting off to somewhat of a rough start to open the season the bullpen in particular has been very good. A big part of that has been the veteran leadership provided by Brett Myers, which is something Luhnow touched base on in his online chat. The Astros would not be standing where they are now without the veteran closer.