THE PALLILOG

Here are some compelling reasons the Astros may consider a pitching shakeup

Here are some compelling reasons the Astros may consider a pitching shakeup
We could see some changes to the Astros rotation. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Happy New Year! Baseball New Year that is with Astros’ pitchers and catchers having gone through their first spring training workout Thursday, six weeks to the day ahead of the March 30 regular season opener. One non-critical question to be answered, how will Dusty Baker line up his starting rotation to begin the season. Barring injury or some other fly in the ointment arising, presumably the Opening Night start goes to Framber Valdez. New 64 million dollar man Cristian Javier should get the ball for game two. Then Lance McCullers, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy.

As Major League Baseball further explained the new rules for this season Garcia in particular does have a notable adjustment to make. His heretofore protracted multi-step windup will no longer be tolerated. Pitchers get one step backward and one step forward as part of their motion and that’s that. Anything more is an automatic ball. As a creature of habit it will be an adjustment for Garcia, but really shouldn’t be a big deal.

There is no urgency to get a contract extension done with Valdez since he is under Astros’ control for this season and two more. Still, with Javier now locked in for the next half-decade and new General Manager Dana Brown clearly having brought from Atlanta the “lock up young core guys” philosophy one wonders what numbers it would take to lock in Framber beyond 2025 (Javier also would have been eligible for free agency after 2025). Forgetting money and going purely by what they will do on the mound, if you could only have one for the next five years: Javier or Valdez? Plenty no doubt would go Javier, but note that had the Astros not done the extension his salary would have ranged from three to 3.5 million dollars this season. Valdez is inked at 6.8 million, so with that as the baseline for negotiations it presumably would take more than 64 million if a five year deal is to be struck.

Mr. October

There are Yankee fans who find it heretical that the great Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson is affiliated with the Astros. “Mr. October” has been a Special Advisor to Jim Crane the past couple of years. Reggie is in town this weekend as the Astros Foundation hosts the inaugural Cactus Jack HBCU Classic at Minute Maid Park. If unfamiliar, Cactus Jack is the name of rapper Travis Scott’s record label and own foundation. Anyway, among the sidebars to the event, Jackson is relaunching the “REGGIE!” bar. Back in the day it was billed as “Chocolaty covered caramel and peanuts.” ChocolatY? Whatever. As a kid I thought it was tasty. It was distinctively shaped more like a large praline than, say, a “Baby Ruth” or “Snickers” bar.

Reggie Jackson had a famously/notoriously huge ego. The man walked the walk an awful lot. In his superstar days with the Oakland A’s Jackson once said that if he played in New York they’d name a candy bar after him. After the 1976 season Jackson signed with the Yankees as part of the first offseason of free agency in Major League Baseball. Reggie signed for an outrageous three million dollars over five years. Three million total, not per year. Yes it was 46 years ago but three mil in 1977 inflation-adjusted is still only about 15 million in 2023 dollars. Jackson had an outstanding first season with the Yanks, capping it with the crowning game of his career when he hit three home runs on three consecutive pitches off of three different pitchers as the Yankees closed out the Dodgers in game six of the 1977 World Series. And sure enough just a few months later the candy bar named after him happened.

Jackson showed more flair for the dramatic by homering in the Yankees’ home opener in 1978, at which the fan giveaway was a “REGGIE!” bar. After Jackson connected in the bottom of the first, the field was showered with “REGGIE!” bars.

One of my favorite sports books of all-time is former Yankee relief pitcher Sparky Lyle’s “The Bronx Zoo,” which is an excellent and funny read as basically a long form diary of the 1978 Yankees’ season. In the book Lyle quotes the late Hall of Fame pitcher “Catfish” Hunter as saying about the “REGGIE!” bar, “Don’t ever put a “REGGIE!” bar in your pocket or you’ll get mustard all over your pants,” and “When you unwrap a “REGGIE!” bar it tells you how good it is.” Classic stuff.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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Astros defeat the Orioles, 5-1. Composite Getty Image.

Ronel Blanco pitched seven strong innings and Chas McCormick homered twice to lead the Houston Astros to a 5-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.

Yordan Alvarez added a two-run shot to help Houston extend its winning streak to four games.

Blanco (8-2), who threw seven hitless innings in his last start, allowed four hits and a run with three strikeouts for his third straight win.

Alvarez put the Astros on top with his 16th homer, which came off Corbin Burnes (8-3) in the third, and McCormick made it 4-1 in the fifth. McCormick got his fifth career multihomer game when he connected again in the eighth.

Burnes allowed five hits, including a season-high two homers and a season-most four runs in seven innings to snap his career-best streak of 10 consecutive quality starts. He was 5-0 in seven starts since a loss at Washington on May 7.

Jordan Westburg homered in the second for the Orioles, who set a franchise record with 21 straight games with a home run to surpass the 1998 squad's 20-game streak.

Baltimore had troubled stringing hits together Saturday after scoring 28 runs combined in the last two games. The top four batters in their order combined to go 1 for 13 against Blanco and Houston's bullpen.

Ryan Pressly threw a scoreless eighth before Josh Hader struck out two in a perfect ninth to end it.

Westburg connected off Blanco with one out in the second to put the Orioles up 1-0.

Yainer Diaz opened Houston’s second with a triple on a line drive to right field. The Astros tied it when he scored on a sacrifice fly by Mauricio Dubón with one out.

McCormick singled with no outs in the third and the shot to center field by Alvarez came with two outs to put Houston on top 3-1.

McCormick’s home run to the seats in left field extended the lead to 4-1 with one out in the fifth.

Cedric Mullins tripled off the wall in center with one out in the seventh. Colton Cowser hit a sharp line drive, but was robbed of a hit when shortstop Jeremy Peña made a leaping catch for the second out. Blanco then retired Ramón Urías to end the inning and leave Mullins stranded.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: RHP Jake Bloss, who made his major league debut Friday night, was placed on the injured list with right shoulder discomfort.

ROSTER MOVES

Astros: RHP Nick Hernandez was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land on Friday night. ... LHP Bryan King was selected to the MLB roster and RHP Luis Contreras was recalled from Sugar Land on Saturday. … RHP Alex Speas was designated for assignment.

UP NEXT

Houston LHP Framber Valdez (5-5, 3.91 ERA) opposes RHP Albert Suárez (3-1, 2.05) in the series finale Sunday.

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