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What the Javier demotion says about the Astros’ thinking

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Javier was demoted to AAA. At first glance this seems head-scratching: Javier is the fourth starter. Shouldn’t the fifth starter be demoted to make room for Jake Odorizzi? Javier, in his two starts, has been nothing short of brilliant (0.92 WHIP, 2.08 ERA, 1.65 FIP). The arrival of Odorizzi, however, coincides with a stretch of games that will allow the Astros to keep their starters on schedule.

A modern starting pitcher throws every fifth day on normal rest. One needs a five-man rotation to avoid short rest. However, the Astros had and will have off days on 4/11, 4/15, and 4/19. meaning the team won’t need a fifth starter until 4/24.

The 26-man roster allows no more than 13 pitchers, meaning that the team has nine bullpen arms (essentially, the 8 arms + Garcia in long relief).

So much for the mechanics of the move. What does it say?

  1. Most importantly, and somewhat paradoxically, it says that the team wants Javier in the rotation. They see him as a big part of the rotation, and would rather see him stretched out at the alternate site than employed as a reliever. Given Framber’s recovery means likely a June return to Houston, this isn’t nothing. It means that, if Javier is pitching well, nothing is preventing an Urquidy or even an Odorizzi from getting bounced. The modern reliability of trips to the IL means that Houston may not have to worry about having six healthy starters, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that Javier is the odd man out.
  2. They aren’t worried as about inning caps for the top four starters as some might believe. Spreading out the starts and giving guys an extra day of rest can be a way of preserving health. I imagine Click is thinking otherwise: guys might need a few stints on the IL, or extra rest around the All-Star break.
  3. Bielak and Garcia are essentially bidding for the long-reliever role. Unless someone comes up lame, one of those two get optioned on 4/24 when Javier starts. If they both throw well, and one or more of the more traditional relievers are struggling, it’s not inconceivable that both Bielak and Garcia stay up.
  4. Don’t fret about the bullpen. Bullpen dominance can be fickle. Some of our guys have looked bad. But Click and Dusty both think that stashing Javier in AAA for two weeks and keeping him as a starter is more valuable than transitioning him to a reliever role. Paredes, Baez, and Scrubb will have chances to make positive impacts this season. Taylor and Raley will have chances to turn it around. It’s a long season. The Astros have the best record in the AL, and the best run-differential in baseball. Let’s break 2021’s first losing streak tonight!