- While he’s only made three starts this season, Astros ace and reigning Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel has displayed some notable red flags, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs points out (notably, Cameron’s piece was written prior to Keuchel’s most recent start, though the velocity issues he mentions persisted in that outing). Chief among them is diminished velocity in Keuchel’s sinker, cutter and slider. Velocity peaks in the middle of a season for a pitcher, of course, but Cameron notes that even when comparing Keuchel’s velocity to his velocity last April, there’s a significant dip. Beyond that, Keuchel isn’t commanding the bottom of the strike zone as well as he did last season (or, alternatively, umpires are not being as generous on the bottom of the zone after learning from Statcast data that Keuchel received more favorable bottom-of-the-zone calls than nearly any other pitcher in the league). Cameron stresses that the sample being studied is small, but each is a concerning trend for an Astros club that very much needs Keuchel to approximate his 2015 value to make a run at the top of the division.
- Though the season is only two weeks old, the early returns on the Ken Giles trade aren’t great from the Astros’ perspective, CBSSports.com’s R.J. Anderson writes. Houston dealt a hefty package of prospects and young players to the Phillies for Giles and Jonathan Arauz in December, and one of those five players (Vincent Velasquez) has already emerged as an early star of the 2016 season. Giles, meanwhile, has a 9.64 ERA through 4 2/3 innings and has already allowed as many homers (three) as he did in the entire 2014-15 seasons combined. As Anderson notes, however, Giles has maintained his velocity and is actually striking batters out at a higher rate, so his early-season homer issues could simply be a fluke.
- In other Astros news from earlier today, Lance McCullers got through a throwing session with no problems.
- Astros right-hander Lance McCullers threw Sunday without any problems, reports Brian McTaggart of MLB.com (on Twitter). The 22-year-old has yet to debut this season because of shoulder troubles, and he had to be scratched from a rehab start earlier this week because of “lingering recovery issues” from his prior outing. McCullers burst on the scene as a rookie in 2015, tossing 125 2/3 innings of 3.22 ERA ball (3.26 FIP, 3.50 xFIP) to accompany a stellar 9.24 K/9. Without McCullers, the Astros’ rotation has put up a lofty 4.82 ERA this year.
- With hard-throwing righty Lance McCullers on the shelf because of inflammation in his pitching shoulder, the Astros might have to address the lack of velocity in their rotation at some point, Rosenthal opines. Even though the Astros have the reigning American League Cy Young winner in lefty Dallas Keuchel, he isn’t known for overpowering velocity. Neither are fellow starters Mike Fiers, Doug Fister, Collin McHugh or Scott Feldman. Of course, in addition to McCullers, Houston had another young, in-house flamethrower in Vincent Velasquez, but it traded the early 2016 sensation to the Phillies in a package for reliever Ken Giles during the offseason.
- Astros righty Lance McCullers Jr. has been scratched from a scheduled rehab outing tomorrow, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports (Twitter links). Skipper A.J. Hinch says that the young starter hasn’t experienced any kind of set-back, but hadn’t recovered quickly enough from his most recent work. Houston obviously wants to be certain that the 22-year-old’s shoulder is free and clear of problems before ramping him up, but the club is surely anxious to plug him back into a rotation that has had its share of struggles in the early going.
- The Astros are readying Evan Gattis for duties behind the plate in the near future, as MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports. Gattis broke in as a backstop, of course, but the 29-year-old didn’t see any time there last year, as Houston utilized him almost exclusively as a DH (with 11 outfield stings also mixed in). Houston has relied on a combination of Jason Castro and Erik Kratz at the catching position to open the year, having acquired the latter after presumed reserve Max Stassi was lost to injury. He’s expected back before long, but the opportunity to plug Gattis in at times could open some interesting roster possibilities for the Astros.
The Angels have announced that they’ve claimed righty Danny Reynolds from the Astros and returned him to Double-A Arkansas, where he pitched last season. The Astros designated Reynolds for assignment on Thursday.
The 24-year-old Reynolds was previously a prospect in the Angels system, but he was claimed last December by the Dodgers and then the Astros. Last season, the 24-year-old posted a 4.57 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9 in 43 1/3 innings of relief at Arkansas, increasing his strikeout rate but also his walk rate. Reynolds, a third-round pick of the Angels in 2009, has never pitched in the big leagues.
- Cuban shortstop Anibal Sierra has agreed to a $3.5MM bonus with the Astros that will become official on July 2nd, Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com reports. The total outlay will be closer to $7MM when accounting for the penalty on the amount that goes above and beyond Houston’s $2.197MM international pool, though of course that number could change if the club acquires additional spending slots. Adding the glove-first 22-year-old would appear to set the club up for yet more additions, as his signing alone would require the team to take on a two-year ban on international signings of over $300K.
- Former big league relievers Josh Outman, Josh Zeid, Eric Fornataro, and Nick Greenwood have signed deals with the Atlantic League’s New Britain Bees, according to team press release (h/t to Chris Cotillo of SB Nation, on Twitter). Outman, 31, has had some productive years as a lefty specialist but never got a shot in the majors last year while dealing with shoulder troubles. Zeid, a 29-year-old righty who has seen sporadic MLB action with the Astros, posted a 4.46 ERA in 70 2/3 frames for the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in 2015. Fornataro, a 28-year-old right-hander, has received only minimal major league time. He worked to a 5.37 ERA last year at Triple-A in the Nationals organization. As for Greenwood, 28, he did enough to earn 36 major league frames with the Cardinals in 2014, but ended with a 4.75 ERA and only managed a 5.79 earned run mark last season while functioning mostly as a Triple-A starter.
The Astros have designated right-hander Danny Reynolds for assignment, tweets MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. Presumably, the move will clear spot on the 40-man roster for fellow right-hander Chris Devenski; earlier today, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle tweeted that Houston planned to select Devenski’s contract and option right-hander Michael Feliz to Triple-A after Feliz threw 107 pitches in relief of Collin McHugh’s disastrous start yesterday.
Reynolds, 24, went from the Angels to the Dodgers to the Astros by way of waiver claim this offseason, and now could very well be exposed to waivers once again in the wake of his most recent DFA. The former sixth-rounder made it to Triple-A in 2014 but took a step back down the ladder in 2015, spending the entire year with he Halos’ Double-A affiliate, where he worked to a 4.57 ERA with 10.4 K/9 vs. 5.8 BB/9 in 43 1/3 innings of relief. Reynolds moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen in 2014 and has seen his strikeout rate spike significantly since that time; over the past two minor league campaigns, he’s whiffed 113 batters in 105 1/3 innings. He did seem to develop some control issues in 2015, however, as evidenced by an uncharacteristically lofty 5.8 BB/9 rate.
As for the 25-year-old Devenski, who will be making his big league debut if he gets into a game with the Astros, the former White Sox 25th-rounder rated 24th among Houston farmhands, per MLB.com, which noted in its free scouting report that he sits 88-91 mph with his fastball and could sneak his way into the back of a big league rotation if everything clicks. If not, an above-average changeup and solid control could land him a spot in the bullpen. Last season, Devenski logged a 3.01 ERA with 7.8 K/9 against 2.5 BB/9 in 119 2/3 innings with Houston’s Double-A affiliate.
The Astros have made veteran left-hander and former rotation mainstay Wandy Rodriguez a an offer to pitch for their Triple-A club, reports MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart (Twitter link). The 37-year-old Rodriguez signed with Houston on a minor league deal this winter but didn’t crack the big league roster in Spring Training and is now mulling over the prospect of pitching for the club’s top minor league affiliate, per McTaggart. Rodriguez opened the 2015 campaign with Texas’ other club, the Rangers, and pitched quite well out of the Rangers rotation for a couple of months (3.20 ERA, 7.0 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 across his first 11 starts) before a midsummer meltdown led to his release. Rodriguez spent the first seven and a half seasons of his career with Houston, though the Astros have multiple options ahead of him on the rotation depth chart and a number of lefty relief options at the Triple-A level as well.