The last decision Dusty Baker needs to make before April 1 is to name the guy who’s going to serve as the Astros’ fifth starter to begin the season. With no more Spring Training games left for Houston, the battle is down to two young righties: Luis García and Brandon Bielak.
Dusty Baker confirmed that Robel Garcia made the team. So if Myles Straw clears the health and safety protocols in time for Opening Day, the roster is set.— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) March 29, 2021
The only other unknown is the 5th starter. But the loser of the Luis Garcia/Brandon Bielak competition will make the 'pen.
Even though Bielak has thrown well during the preseason, García should claim the starting gig. Not only do I believe García has a legitimate case to win the spot, but he also deserves it for several reasons.
First, he was a pretty useful piece for the Astros last year, when he first appeared in the Majors. In a brief regular-season stint, García proved how valuable he can be, posting a 2.92 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP over 12 1⁄3 innings.
In his first two career outings, the Venezuelan pitched 9 1⁄3 episodes of two-hit, one-run ball against the Angels and the Athletics, two division rivals they’ll be facing plenty of times across a 162-game regular season.
Second, looking back at the 2020 ALCS, he was there when the Astros didn’t have anyone and were against the wall in the series, down 1-3 to the Rays. Facing an elimination game on October 15, the young García started that difficult matchup against Tampa Bay and he delivered.
He began that game 1-2-3, retiring Brandon Lowe, eventual ALCS MVP Randy Arozarena, and Austin Meadows with this nasty, filthy changeup...
In the second inning, García retired Yandy Díaz on a 5-3 play, then he got himself into a jam. Ji-Man Choi drew a walk, Manuel Margot hit a flyout, Joey Wendle was plunked, and Willy Adames got on base thanks to another walk by García.
But the young right-hander got out of trouble by making Mike Zunino hit a dangerous flyball to deep right field. He finished his outing with two scoreless, hitless frames. The Astros eventually won that day and forced Game 6.
Third, García owns a pretty good 1-2 in his repertoire. He averaged 93.9 MPH last year with his four-seam fastball, but it can go up to 97 MPH if he wants to spice up things a bit.
García combines his heater with his great changeup, which he throws more than 10 miles per hour less to create notable deception. Off his changeup, opponents hit for a .111 batting average during the 2020 regular season: 1-for-9, with three strikeouts.
Fourth and last, the 24-year-old looked ready for the upcoming season on Wednesday, against the Nationals. He took the win with a relief appearance of four scoreless innings of two hits, two walks, and five punchouts.
His outing included this gem: an immaculate inning, in which he struck out Alex Ávila, Carter Kieboom, and Víctor Robles.
The good thing about this battle is that both García and Bielak are going to make the Opening Day roster. It’s just a matter of roles. So far and thanks to what he did months ago as well, García may have an edge.