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Luis García and the Astros are faced with a unique problem

Load management could factor into the Astros’ pitching plans.

Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Luis García is in uncharted territory. Before 2021, he exceeded 100 innings one time in his professional career — in 2019, when he logged 108.2 combined in Low-A and High-A. Over the weekend, the 24-year-old rookie eclipsed 110 innings on the season.

For much of it, García has produced remarkably consistent results, especially for a pitcher of his youth and inexperience. In 17 starts prior to the All-Star Break, only once had he allowed more than three earned runs.

But in his five outings since the Midsummer Classic, García has twice allowed five earned, and though his three other appearances have yielded only two runs across 17 innings, recent blips could be noteworthy.

via Baseball Savant

García’s decline in velocity isn’t meant to be indicative of potential inadequacy, but rather a sign of possible fatigue. Granted, his four-seam fastball had the same average velocity in May as it does in August, but it’s nevertheless an interesting development that will be worth monitoring considering he’s never pitched this deep into a season.

Fortunately for the Astros, concurrent with the slight dip in velocity is a stark increase in the pitch’s whiff rate.

via Baseball Savant

Is this uptick in whiffs reflective of the effectiveness of García’s heater? Or of hitters being overly cognizant of his formidable arsenal of secondary pitches? Either way, it’s a positive reflection of the young righty’s ability to fool hitters, which he does in a litany of ways.

García is 87th percentile in Whiff rate, and among all starting pitchers in baseball, he is the only one who has four pitches with a Whiff rate of at least 40 percent (min. 20 results). His cutter in particular is especially potent, as Statcast’s Run Value ranks it the third-best cutter in the major leagues.

His impressive collection of pitches aside, García has rounded out his profile nicely by limiting the free passes (60th percentile) and avoiding barrels (55th percentile).

In terms of results, García appears to have no significant flaw in his game. He checks every box. The question is whether he’ll sustain the mid-3.00 ERA quality over the next several weeks leading up to the postseason, when the Astros will need him at his best.

It will be fascinating to see how committed the Astros are to alleviating any looming fatigue concerns. One option is to revert back to a six-man rotation once José Urquidy returns from injury, but that plan is not without complications, as Urquidy’s not expected back until sometime in September, according to manager Dusty Baker.

In the meantime, it appears that García is on a somewhat strict pitch count — he has thrown fewer than 90 pitches in all five of his latest starts. With the Astros holding on to a fairly slim division lead over the A’s, restricting one of the club’s top starters isn’t ideal, but opting to prepare for a likely playoff berth would seem to be a sensible approach.

While there have yet to be any alarming trends, García could be approaching a critical juncture physically. If he were to begin showing tangible signs of wear — such as a more substantial decrease in velocity — perhaps the Astros would need to take more drastic measures in preserving their prized hurler so as to have him fit for October.

The Astros are renowned for their pitching prowess. How they continue to handle García could shed a brighter light on how highly the organization prioritizes load management.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant