ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 23: Rhiner Cruz #55 of the Houston Astros throws to a St. Louis Cardinals batter at Busch Stadium on August 23, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
It's Friday once again, and like it or not it's time to take a look back on how our Astros fared on the mound this past week. With the off day on Monday and the fact that I was too lazy and too depressed to put yesterday's 13-5 nailbiter in the pitching stats, we're only looking at five games this week. The overall stats for this past week are rather depressing as the Astros had the second highest ERA in the major's. Their collective 6.28 ERA just beat out the Angels 6.83 for dead last. If your sorting the stats by FIP then the Astros jump all the way up to 25th out of the 30 teams with an FIP of 4.91. We will break down the rotation first and see where things went wrong, and then get into the bullpen's struggles over the past week.
Failure to pitch deep into the game was the Astros theme song this week. It's never a good sign when the bullpen has only thrown eight innings less than your starter's have for the week. That was the case for the Astros this week as the rotation lasted just 25.1 innings in five games this week leaving the rotation obligated to cover the other 17.2 innings. Only Dallas Keuchel pitched into the seventh inning this week, but was unable to finish the inning. Armando Galarraga didn't make it out of the third inning and Jordan Lyles was lifted after four innings of work in his outing. Even Lucas Harrell who has been on a hot streak for a while now only lasted five innings, and they weren't a very good five innings at that. One interesting thing to keep an eye on going forward is if the Astros start to limit some of the innings pitched by their young rotation. Lucas Harrell, Dallas Keuchel, and Jordan Lyles are all at or nearing career highs in innings pitched and could be shutdown at some point when rosters expand in September.
I will start with Keuchel here since he pitched the best game this week, but his second start of the week that is not listed would have knocked him out of the running for that dubious honor. The soft tossing lefty only allowed four hits and two walks in his 6.2 innings of work. He had started to settle back in again after struggling in his second stint with the Astros. Still his ERA stands at 5.40 and his FIP at 5.53 on the season. Walks have been a big reason for Keuchel's struggles this year, so the fact that he was able to limit his walks allowed in his last outing is a good sign.
As far as innings limitations go with Keuchel, he has already pitched 151 innings between the Astros and Oklahoma City. Last season he pitched a combined 163.2 innings between AA and AAA. I'm not for sure how much over last year's total the Astros intend to extend him, but you could see him making another two to four starts without causing to much concern.
Bud Norris' start this week came against the Cardinals so naturally it was a quality start. He was not his usually dominating self against them however. He pitched six innings and allowed three earned runs on seven hits and a walk. What was unusual for Bud was the fact that he had only one strikeout that game. It was only the second time this whole season that Bud only managed to record one strikeout. For his part though he was able to keep a good scoring team from breaking the game open and kept things close.
Lyles cruised through the first four innings before things completely came unraveled in the fifth. Tell me that you haven't heard that story before. This game was very similar to several games pitched by Lyles this year. If he can figure out how to avoid that one big inning then he could be someone to keep an eye on. It's hard to pinpoint one particular area that Lyles has struggled in this season. Lefties are hitting him harder than righties, but right handed hitters are still squaring him up far to often as well. He has pitched better at home (4.15 ERA) versus on the road (7.58 ERA) this season. The biggest problem is that opponents batting average against him rises substantially with their second and third cycles through the batting order. Hopefully he can develop a game plan or change their strategy to keep hitters off balance the next time they face him.
Lyles threw a combined 156.1 innings last season and so far he has thrown 143.1 innings this season. With his age it would make a lot of sense to monitor his innings closely and try not to extend him to far past last season's total.
Lucas Harrell has stated several times this season that he likes working with veteran catcher Chris Snyder. The pairing has seemed to work pretty well for Harrell. This past start was not a very good one for Harrell, and it was also the first start in a long time that he was paired with Jason Castro and not Chris Snyder, so make of it what you will. Harrell pitched five innings and allowed six earned runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out three. He was hit hard early on but was able to stick around for a little bit and save an overworked bullpen.
Brad Mills had publicly stated that the organization was going to keep an eye on Harrell's innings for the rest of the season. He currently stands at 151.1 innings pitched, and has been as high as 161.1 in the minors. He's a little older so you could expect him to handle a decent increase in innings pitched. It will be interesting to see if the organization skips a start or two of his on the off days or lets him finish the season out like normal.
Xavier Cedeno, Mickey Storey, and Wilton Lopez did not allow an earned run during this time, though that changed for Storey and Cedeno yesterday. Unless your name was Wilton Lopez or Fernando Rodriguez then you struggled with control this week. Astros reliever's combined to walk a total of twelve batters in 17.2 innings pitched, and Lopez and Rodriguez combined for one of those walks.
Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco made a couple of interesting decisions this week when deciding when and who to deploy this week. The first one came when he called for Rhiner Cruz with the bases loaded against the Cardinals in Tuesday nights affair. Rhiner isn't exactly known for his control, but he was able to get out of the inning without allowing any additional damage to occur. The other decision came in yesterday's game in which I said I wouldn't talk about but continue to reference it here. Dallas Keuchel worked his way into a bases loaded no out jame in the fifth and DeFrancesco went with Hector Ambriz who was just called up and was making his Astros debut yesterday. Not exactly the ideal situation you would want to be dropped into. This one did not work out as well as the Rhiner decision as all runner's scored and then one.
Overall Wilton Lopez is continuing to put together a good season. He is most likely the default closer if the Astros can ever sneak their way back into a close situation. Both Rhiner Cruz and Fernando Rodriguez have been better of late, and Mickey Storey has been better than expected as well.