Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers has dealt with shoulder soreness since Spring Training. McCullers return hasn't been clear since that time with the young righty spending much of his time in Flordia to rehab. It appears the waiting time is over for McCullers and he will rejoin the Astros this week. But who will he replace in rotation, if anyone?
What do the Astros rotation and bullpen look like with McCullers?
I'll take a stab as to how the pitching spots end up when McCullers returns. My guess is that McCullers takes Devenski's place in the rotation and Devenski returns to the bullpen. Feliz returns to AAA. I'm not saying that's my optimal preference (or even how things look a month from now), just my speculation on the club's decision if it has to be made next week.
Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, and Fiers are the lock guys. Fiers' ERA is ugly, but he's been smashed by homers (several of them cheapies) and has whacked two full walks off his BB/9 from last year. So it's either Devenski or Fister to the bullpen. I think it will be Devenski. It's kind of sad because he was really good, but frankly, maybe it's a good thing. After, what, three or four bullpen blowups in the last 1-2 weeks now, maybe what we need is to get the Dragon breathing fire out of the bullpen again. For a while, anyway. Fister's leash will be short, but he's reeled off four straight serviceable outings, so I doubt they'll cut him loose yet.
I think they'll wait until the weekend myself. However, come Saturday, perhaps it'll look Keuchel, McHugh, Fiers, Fister, Devenski. I think Devenski's starts haven't gone unnoticed, and considering our record I don't think they're afraid to go with the guy who had produced the best results at the back end of the rotation.
Replace Fister with McCullers.
Wow, that's a tough one. Three weeks ago it would have been hard to decide which starter you actually liked being in the rotation, but the way everyone has been pitching lately I don't feel like any of them deserve a demotion. That being said, I think I would move Devenski back into the bullpen and send Feliz back to AAA. I've been impressed with Devenski as a starter, but he was also really effective out of the bullpen. As long as Fiers and Fister are pitching well, I'd keep Devenski in the bullpen and maybe use him as more of a high leverage guy now that you have Feldman as the long reliever.
I think this is an interesting situation. During the month of may, the only pitcher who has been struggling is Ken Giles, and that's been less than three innings pitched. Here are the starters' ERAs during the past month:
Dallas Keuchel: 5.56 (not getting demoted, duh)
Collin McHugh: 3.55
Mike Fiers: 3.86
Doug Fister: 2.77
Chris Devenski: 1.50
That doesn't include Michael Feliz and his four perfect innings with the team's highest strikeout rate, or Scott Feldman's three perfect innings.
How can you argue with results? There's no obvious candidate to be bumped from the staff (no, Giles is not a candidate). But McCullers is conceivably the Astros' second-best starting pitcher. What to do? This comes down to the Astros' internal evaluation of Michael Feliz and Chris Devenski, in my opinion. Do they view both as starters in 2017 and beyond? Is one better suited to be a dominant relief pitcher? One of those two guys is going to go to AAA and pitch starter's innings. My guess is that Feliz goes down and Feldman stays in the bullpen where he's found so much success so far. Feliz is three years younger than Devenski, and so presumably has more to development time available to him. On the other hand, if the Astros don't intend to make Feliz a starter at all and believe that his future is an elite bullpen arm, then it would make sense to keep Devenski stretched out in Fresno and be ready for an injury- or trade-related call-up.
One thing's for sure, and that's that a good young pitcher is going to be undeservedly demoted, based on their major league performance. A good problem for the Astros to have.
My heart says demote Feliz so he can start and move Fister to the pen. My brain laughs sadly at this, like one might smile indulgently at a child who says they want to grow up to be Superman. I believe the Astros will demote Feliz, put Devenski back in the pen with Feldman, and the rotation will be Keuchel-McHugh-McCullers-Fiers-Fister.