José Urquidy is no stranger to big games. In 2019, the then-rookie starter was called upon to start Game 4 of the World Series. Despite accruing just a handful of starts in the regular season that year, the Astros righty responded by tossing five scoreless innings on the road in Washington, spearheading a decisive 8-1 victory. After losing the first two games of the 2020 American League Championship Series, Urquidy was tabbed to be the stopper in Game 3. Though the Astros would lose the contest, their young hurler pitched admirably, soaking up five innings while allowing one earned run.
For the second consecutive year, Urquidy is to be the Game 3 starter in the ALCS. Based on the circumstances, it could prove to be the most consequential start of his career. Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander are no longer members of the starting rotation as they were two years ago, when Urquidy impressed in his first October, and with Lance McCullers Jr. now injured, Urquidy must assume the mantle.
McCullers was meant to be the starter the Astros could rely on in crucial games, but an arm injury has him on the sidelines. Framber Valdez, who pitched brilliantly in last year’s postseason, has so far failed to step up in McCullers’ place. The 27-year-old southpaw allowed four runs in 4 1⁄3 innings of work in his lone start against the White Sox in the Astros’ prior playoff series, and then did not get out of the third inning in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, walking more batters than he struck out in the process.
As solid as Valdez had been in the regular season, he was able to pitch effectively while struggling with his control in seemingly every other outing. Now in the playoffs, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to get away with issuing an abundance of free passes as he had during the summer. Not against a terrific Boston lineup.
To put more pressure on Urquidy, rookie Luis García, who was instrumental in the starting staff’s overall success this year, exited Game 2 with a knee injury after recording just three outs. Dusty Baker said he will remain on the roster, indicating he will pitch again in some capacity, but it’s impractical to believe he will do so at 100 percent.
This leaves Urquidy as perhaps the lone dependable starting pitcher on the Astros roster, which is a rather scary notion since a shoulder issue forced him to miss July and August entirely. But when he was on the mound this year, the Mexican native fared quite well in his 107 innings, as evidenced by a 3.62 ERA and a 3.89 Expected ERA (xERA).
Urquidy’s last start was on October 3 against the A’s, when he pitched six innings of three-run ball while displaying velocity that was on-par with his season average. With that said, he threw 84 pitches, and might still be regaining his arm strength.
With the Astros bullpen forced to carry a heavy load in both games over the weekend, it’s paramount that Urquidy give the club much-needed length as the series shifts to Fenway Park. He is exactly what the team needs in terms of throwing strikes and eating innings.
The Astros are already facing an uphill climb with their starting pitching in flux. Should Urquidy not be able to provide five-plus serviceable innings in Game 3, an already-taxed bullpen, which will be without Jake Odorizzi for multiple days after his extensive Saturday outing, could be pushed to their limit, as there are no off-days separating any of the next three games.
As mighty as the Astros offense is, it seems Urquidy’s performance alone may significantly factor into whether or not the organization makes a return trip to the Fall Classic.
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