TALENT ON DISPLAY

Korey Lee makes his debut as Houston Astros young guns continue to shine

Korey Lee makes his debut as Houston Astros young guns continue to shine
Korey Lee got his first big league at-bat Friday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

The future remains bright for many of the Astros' young talents getting their chance to shine on the big stage. On Friday, the Astros called up their number 2 prospect, Korey Lee, a catcher they drafted 32nd overall in 2019. The move came after Houston moved Jason Castro to the 10-day IL, leaving them with only Martin Maldonado at the position on the active roster.

Catcher of the future?

Lee, a 23-year-old from Escondido, California, has quickly advanced through Houston's farm system. He began his minor-league career in single-A in 2019, then after no season in 2020, he resumed play in 2021, where he quickly moved up to double-A, then ultimately received his promotion to triple-A Sugar Land where he spent the last nine games of the season. In 2022, he's been doing well for the Space Cowboys, most recently hitting .271 in June with a .822 OPS.

He brings to the table what the Astros have sorely needed from their catcher's spot: a decent bat. In his minor-league career thus far, Lee is a .258 hitter with 24 homers and 113 RBI in 801 at-bats. Maldonado and Castro are batting .145 and .115, respectively, a low mark that has unfortunately created a soft spot in an otherwise potent lineup. Should Lee get some decent time behind the plate during Castro's IL stint, and he can produce similar numbers at the major-league level, it will be interesting to see how the Astros navigate the rest of this year and beyond with Castro heading to free agency at the conclusion of 2022.

Javier continues to deal

Meanwhile, Houston has a young pitcher that has blossomed into a bona fide force on the mound recently. Cristian Javier has shown plenty of potential in the last three years, maintaining a respectable ERA whether he's been asked to start or come out of the bullpen. His most recent two starts in particular, though, have been magnificent.

Unless you're disconnected from some of sport's leading headlines, you probably heard that the Astros put together a combined no-hitter against the Yankees on June 25th. Javier was the cornerstone of the accomplishment, holding one of the league's most dangerous lineups without a hit over seven innings of work, before Houston's bullpen backed him up with two more.

He followed that up Friday night against the Angels with another gem, this time allowing just one hit, a first-inning solo homer by Shohei Ohtani, over seven more innings of work. Not only did that bring him to 14 total innings with just one hit, but he has also struck out 27 batters over those fourteen innings, nearly two per inning while issuing just one walk. His stuff has been nearly unhittable, putting an excellent problem in front of the Astros as other pitchers like Jake Odorizzi and, eventually, Lance McCullers Jr. get healthy, and they figure out how to build the best rotation.

More young guns putting in work

Speaking of returns from injury, the Astros were able to have Jake Meyers return to the active roster after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2021 playoffs. He's done well in his seven games so far, most recently going 2-for-4 Friday night with a solo homer and two-RBI single that helped lead the Astros to their 8-1 victory.

Another top prospect putting in rehab work right now is Forrest Whitley, who is somehow still only 24 despite feeling like Houston's most coveted prospect for nearly a decade. He's made three shortened starts so far in 2022 across the lower levels of the minors, giving up three runs in the first game but posting back-to-back games with no runs across five innings of total work. He's set to make his return to triple-A on Monday, making a start for Sugar Land to further test where he stands in his recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The trade deadline looms

As is the case every year, speculations run rampant regarding what teams are looking to do as the deadline to make trades nears. We are a month away from 2022's deadline of August 2nd, meaning things are starting to ratchet into gear. Teams, like the Astros, will likely be using the month of July to see where their young talent stands, not just for personal gain should they need to make call-ups or fill their roster in the second half of the season, but to have potential bait to lure in partners for deals to bring some veteran talent to a team that might need that extra push.

Houston should absolutely be engaged in talks to improve the team this season while their championship window remains open. But, how much value will they be willing to part with to get it? We should find out within the next month.

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Astros beat the Nationals, 5-3. Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images.

Justin Verlander allowed two runs and four hits over six innings to win his season debut for the Houston Astros, 5-3 over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

The 41-year-old right-hander, who began the season on the injured list because of right shoulder inflammation, struck out four and walked none, throwing 50 of 78 pitches for strikes in his 258th win.

“He looked really good," Astros manager Joe Espada said. "Efficient, threw a ton of strikes.”

Verlander (1-0) averaged 94.3 mph with 35 four-seam fastballs and induced five groundouts. The nine-time All-Star retired the side in order four times and improved to 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in five regular-season starts against the Nationals.

Ildemaro Vargas hit an RBI single in the third and Riley Adams homered in the fourth, cutting Washington’s deficit to 4-2.

Verlander had made a pair of minor league injury rehabilitation starts.

He retired his first eight batters before Adams doubled off the base of the wall in right-center field.

“Yeah, pleasantly surprised, honestly," Verlander said. “I kind of tried to cram spring training into three starts and control wasn’t quite what I would have liked. The rehab starts and then just look at mechanics and try to find something to make it click. I think what I worked on between last start and this start, just being a little more directional.”

Verlander was 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA last year for the New York Mets and Houston, who acquired him ahead of the trade deadline. Espada was hopeful Verlander could key an early season turnaround.

“It’s very important," Espada said. "Despite how we started, it’s a long journey. we need him to lead us through this season. We have been in this before. We just got to be patient, continue to fight and once this rotation gets healthy and we start hitting our stride it’s going to be fun.”

Josh Hader allowed Jesse Winker's sacrifice fly in the ninth and got his second save, striking out his final two batters.

Houston (7-14) stole five bases and stopped a three-game losing streak. Jeremy Peña and Mauricio Dubón had three hits each, Yainer Diaz doubled twice, and Kyle Tucker doubled, singled, walked twice and stole two bases.

Washington manager Dave Martinez was ejected by plate umpire Cory Blaser for arguing a caught stealing call against Vargas that ended the eighth. The Nationals are celebrating the fifth anniversary of their 2019 World Series win over Houston in seven games.

MacKenzie Gore (2-1) allowed three runs and seven hits in four innings.

“Frustrating," Gore said. "But it was kind of one of those things where it wasn’t bad. We had a chance. I thought the bullpen was really good again. I just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t terrible. I just need to be a little better.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Espada says LHP Framber Valdez played catch Friday and felt well. Espada expects Valdez to throw a bullpen session of 30-40 pitches this weekend.

UP NEXT

RHP Ronel Blanco (2-0, 0.86) starts Saturday for Houston against RHP Trevor Williams (2-0, 3.45).

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