At this point, I don’t feel the need to extensively rehash Cristian Javier’s struggles. It has been covered ad nauseam on this site and other places. Javier's numbers have obviously dived, whether due to fatigue, poor mechanics, or some combination thereof. His four-seam fastball has regressed considerably. The swinging strike rate on his slider has declined by over 10% compared to 2022. I think some combination of factors is at play with the right-hander. We also can’t rule out an injury, although there have been no indications that is the case from Javier or the Astros.
Javier’s uneven performance this season — 4.66 ERA, 4.86 FIP in 131 1⁄3 innings — has placed additional strain on a rotation already hampered by injuries this season. It helps that José Urquidy is back, however, Dusty Baker indicated that the right-hander will remain in the bullpen “as of right now.” Regardless, Urquidy’s return provides a bit more depth to a unit that was consistently relying upon a quartet of relatively unproven starters earlier this summer. But with Justin Verlander back in Houston, and the trio of Framber Valdez, Hunter Brown, and J.P. France showing some improvement in recent starts, the question has to be raised about Javier’s role heading into September and beyond.
For the record, I think Javier remains in the rotation for the remainder of the season barring the bottom completely falling out. I’d like to see a piggyback arrangement with him and Urquidy to help limit their exposure to only seeing an opposing lineup up to twice per appearance. Even under that arrangement, however, I have doubts about Javier’s effectiveness. Take his last start against the Red Sox on Monday when he faced only 24 batters (four innings), allowing four runs on six hits and six walks. He clearly labored through that start and was bailed out on a couple of occasions with runners on base. Wash, rinse, repeat for most of his starts since mid-May.
Unfortunately, we’re now approaching close to four months since Javier looked something akin to his breakout in 2022. I do wonder if the club is better off with Urquidy starting with Javier in the bullpen to close the season, as was the case back in 2021. Give the latter a bit of a reset and some additional rest. It is worth pointing out that Javier was somewhat efficient in his first few starts following a skipped start followed by the All-Star break.
If the Astros qualify for the postseason, Javier is possibly on the outside looking in when it comes to the rotation. Verlander and Valdez are the undisputed choices, with Brown, France, and possibly Urquidy all possibly higher in the hierarchy under my assumption. It is a rough spot to possibly lean upon a rookie as a starter in a short playoff series, but Houston may not have much of a choice in the matter. I mean, France has looked more impressive this season for the most part over Javier. Brown is likely a better choice at this juncture, too.
At his best, Javier is the clear number three on this starting staff. But he hasn’t been at his best arguably all season long and the less-than-optimal results have piled on this summer. I think a reset of sorts is in order this offseason, especially with the financial commitment tied into his future performance. As it stands for this season, I think the Astros need to become flexible about what Javier’s role could look like entering the final stretch. With little margin for error in this postseason race, especially in the AL West, the Astros have to maximize their chances of winning every single game. Whether this means taking more of a piggyback approach or a temporary assignment in the bullpen, I think following the same plan as they’ve had all season long is too risky. Javier remains a valuable pitcher on this staff, but his role needs to adjust. At least for now.