Up until July, Luis García threw 90 or more pitches in 9 of 14 starts. But since, the Astros starter has done it just once in 13 outings, when he threw exactly 90 pitches on August 24 against the Royals.
García has been on a rather strict pitch count during the second half of the season. Tonight’s scheduled start against the American League-leading Rays is the rookie hurler’s last of the regular season, and how many pitches he’s allowed to throw could potentially reveal the club’s postseason plans for their prized righty.
In his last start on September 22 in Anaheim, the 24-year-old Venezuelan native only needed 79 pitches to get through 6 scoreless innings before being lifted. In 3 of his prior 4 appearances, his pitch count hovered around 80. This makes an abrupt ramp-up to 100-plus pitches in tonight’s affair an impractical notion. But what could be telling is if García is allowed to even eclipse the 90-pitch mark, so as to at least give him a slightly larger workload in preparation for next week when he’s likely to be a member of the playoff rotation.
In terms of bWAR, García ranks second on the Astros pitching staff. In addition, he’s logged more than 150 innings on the year — by far the most he’s ever accumulated in a single season — and he’s done so despite the controlled second-half workload. His results have been remarkably consistent throughout the season, as evidenced by the fact that he’s maintained an ERA below 3.50 in every month.
It’s apparent that García is one of the team’s top starters, and yet there is a possibility that he may not be utilized as such in the postseason because it could ostensibly affect the long-term health of his arm.
The Astros will soon be adding to their bullpen by subtracting from their rotation. Though there will be multiple starting pitchers on the postseason relief staff, it’s difficult to know how effective they’ll be in unfamiliar roles. For better or worse, having those options could enable the club to maintain García’s capped pitch count.
While its personnel was upgraded at the trade deadline, the Astros’ bullpen is a fairly middle-of-the-pack unit that ranks 16th in ERA and 14th in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). The relief corps has posted a top-10 FIP during the second half, but quality starters such as García are nevertheless going to be extremely valuable in the playoffs when every game is crucial.
If García is to pitch in the postseason under his usual pitch count, or even an amended one, the Astros could be sacrificing playoff upside in favor of preserving a key arm’s long-term viability. Regardless of the potential short-term consequences, there’s reason to suspect such a compromise may occur, and the severity of it could be a determiner in how deep the AL favorites play into October.