Justin Verlander pitches Game 1. Bob Levey/Getty Images
The Astros finished their exhibition season Tuesday at Minute Maid Park and now turn their sights to Tampa Bay and the Rays for baseball's opening day on Thursday.
Probable Pitching Matchup
Thursday, March 28
Justin Verlander vs Blake Snell
The top two finishers for last year's Cy Young oppose each other for the season's first game. Snell allowed seven hits and two runs in two different outings against the Astros last year. Verlander faced the Rays twice with one start being one of his rare poor outings. He allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings of work. The other was just a one run outing.
Friday, March 29
Gerrit Cole vs Charlie Morton
The contract year begins for Gerrit Cole who is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. Cole finished fifth in Cy Young voting last year. Morton begins a two-year deal with the Rays after finishing up his two years with the Astros where he was 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA.
Saturday, March 30
Collin McHugh vs Tyler Glasnow
The Astros have shifted McHugh back to the rotation after a season in the bullpen. He has started 102 games for the Astros in his career producing a 48-28 record with a 3.70 ERA as a starter. Last year as a relief pitcher he had a career low ERA of 1.99.
Sunday, March 31
Wade Miley vs TBA (The Opener)
The Rays will utilize The Opener instead of a traditional starter in this spot. Tampa posted the league's best ERA last season when they added The Opener to their rotation. Wade Miley is the lone left-handed pitcher in the starting rotation taking over the role filled by Dallas Keuchel. Miley was 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA last year in 16 starts for the Brewers.
Offensive Opponent to Watch: CF Tommy Pham
The former Cardinals outfielder disappointed for the Redbirds but for the Rays he's been awesome. His average and on-base percentage went up almost 100 points each when he moved to the American League. His slugging went up almost 200 points. He's the best hitter for the Rays by a wide margin. He has a lifetime .583 batting average against Gerrit Cole.
Notes from Tuesday's Exhibition
Alex Bregman played shortstop as Carlos Correa was a late scratch with neck stiffness. Manager A.J. Hinch was non-committal on Correa's status for Thursday's season opener. Hinch said he didn't think Correa's injury was a long-term issue but is not thrilled he hasn't played the few days leading up to the season starting. If Correa misses time it will be interesting to see how Hinch manages third base and shortstop. His best offensive lineup would likely be Tyler White at third with Bregman sliding over to short.
J.B. Bukauskas was the Astros first round selection in 2017 and he took the mound for the start in the exhibition finale. He had a much better Minute Maid Park debut than Forrest Whitley did. He scattered three hits over his four innings of work allowing two runs on a fourth-inning home run. He struck out three Pirates two with a fastball and one with his breaking pitch. One gripe with the outing would be he wasn't exactly economical with his pitched throwing 63 but just 30 for strikes.
Corbin Martin was a second round selection for the Astros in 2017. He relieved Bukauskas and tossed four innings of scoreless relief. His fastball sat in the high 90's for a good portion of his outing producing two strikeouts while his slider added two more strikeouts. He would add a fifth punch out with a change-up. The former Texas A&M pitcher was the most impressive of the highly touted Astros prospect arms.
George Springer annihilated a baseball into left-center field for the Astros lone run of the day.
Aledmys Díaz is thought to be the new Marwin Gonzalez with his versatility but he struggled to hit this spring. He had the most at-bats on the team in the springs and slashed (AVG/OBP/SLG) .154/.241/.212.
Tony Kemp posted the highest on-base percentage of regularly playing Astros players this spring with a .490 on-base percentage. Alex Bregman was close with .488 himself.
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.