The Astros are reshuffling the back end of their rotation, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com relays. Right-hander Josh James will head to the bullpen, while fellow righty Brandon Bielak will slide into their starting staff. Bielak’s first-ever start will come Thursday against the Diamondbacks.
The perennially contending Astros have gotten off to a so-so start this season, and the dominant rotation they boasted last season is no longer intact. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is on the shelf with a forearm injury, and the club lost Gerrit Cole in free agency. Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr. remain in the fold, though neither has prevented runs at a quality clip in 2020. McCullers took a beating at the hands of the D-backs on Wednesday. If you want to take an optimistic approach, though, Greinke’s a longtime ace, McCullers has enjoyed a fine career and shouldn’t be discounted in his return from a Tommy John procedure, Cristian Javier has been one of the best rookies in baseball in the early going, and Framber Valdez was terrific in a win over the Angels last weekend.
Unfortunately for Houston, opposing offenses have battered James so far. The 27-year-old opened the season with two starts and six innings of seven-run ball before the Astros booted him from their rotation. James only yielded four hits in that span, and he struck out nine, but he issued an alarming number of walks (11) and saw his average velocity drop from 97-mph plus to under 96. For at least the time being, James will head back to a relief role for a Houston club dealing with numerous injuries in its bullpen. James worked 61 1/3 innings (49 appearances, one start) last season and logged a 4.70 ERA/3.98 FIP with 14.67 K/9 and 5.14 BB/9.
Bielak, 24, was an 11th-round pick of the Astros in 2017 who ranks as a top 15 Astros prospect at multiple outlets. He has been a useful hurler for the club at the outset of his career, having combined for 5 1/3 frames of one-run ball with six strikeouts and three walks in his first two appearances.