The Astros have made their intentions known about reverting back to the standard five-man rotation. Based on Dusty Baker’s response to the media, it appears that Cristian Javier (101 IP, 3.21 ERA, 22.2% K-BB% as a starter) is the most likely candidate to move to the bullpen, although it hasn’t been confirmed at the time of this writing.
Re: the Astros’ rotation shuffle: José Urquidy says he is starting Saturday. Garcia is Thurs, Verlander is Sunday. That leaves Friday up in the air. Cristian Javier, who threw a bullpen today, said he doesn’t know what’s happening yet. Lance McCullers Jr. threw a bullpen Tuesday.— Danielle Lerner (@danielle_lerner) August 24, 2022
Arguably the club’s greatest strength, the decision to trim the starting rotation was imminent. It was more of a question of when not if, especially once Lance McCullers Jr. returned from the IL. With Jose Urquidy turning his season around after ditching his cutter a couple of months ago, the Astros were essentially down to two choices: Javier or Luis Garcia. While it isn’t confirmed at this moment if Javier is indeed moving back to a relief role, there is some merit to that potential outcome. For one, Javier does have experience in a relief role. We saw how effective he could be in the role during last year’s postseason run.
While he has outperformed Garcia (123 1/3 IP, 4.09 ERA, 17.3% K-BB%) as a starter this season, Javier’s past successes as a reliever are probably the determining factor in his return to the bullpen. After all, his profile — specifically his swing and miss potential — does lend itself well to shorter spurts, while that is a bit more of an unknown area for Garcia. Not all pitchers can successfully make the transition from starter to reliever or vice versa. Javier is a known variable in this regard compared to Garcia.
If Javier is ultimately reassigned to the bullpen, the primary concern centers around his usage in the short term. At this juncture, I would argue against converting the right-hander to a one-inning relief role, if possible. In fact, I’d suggest that a piggyback arrangement with another starter would prove to be beneficial, considering how the Astros are likely sensitive to their rotation’s usage leading into the postseason. We all recall last October, especially once McCullers Jr. was out, the rotation was running on fumes. With the return of Justin Verlander and improved depth, they can afford to deploy this strategy to keep arms as fresh as possible at this juncture of the season. Plus, a multi-inning relief role would keep Javier stretched out in case you need him to make an emergency start. Losing that flexibility would hurt the Astros more than they would gain by using him in single-inning situations.
In any case, this is a good problem to have for the Astros. Javier, as a starter or reliever, brings plenty to the table, and his flexibility brings quite a bit of value. It is all about how they deploy him from here on out that we should pay attention to in the near future.