When the Houston Astros acquired Austin Pruitt from the Rays this past January, they thought they were building on their pitching depth with a veteran swingman who could plug the gaps in the rotation or bullpen as needed in 2020. To no fault of Pruitt or the Astros, things haven’t worked out as planned. The 31-year-old Pruitt hasn’t thrown a pitch for Houston this season, and he’s not going to. Pruitt underwent surgery to fix a hairline fracture in his right elbow on Wednesday. He’ll be out for the remainder of the season, per MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. Pruitt may also miss the beginning of 2021 as he recovers.
The Astros’ acquisition of Pruitt came at a funny time in their history, as GM Jeff Luhnow would be fired just four days later. Little more than a month after that, current GM James Click would follow Pruitt to the Astros to take over as general manager. There may be slight pangs of regret surrounding this deal, then, for Click, who would have been part of the team that sent Pruitt to the Astros in exchange for outfielder Cal Stevenson and right-hander Peyton Battenfield. Stevenson originally came to the Astros from the Blue Jays as part of the return for Aaron Sanchez, while Battenfield was a ninth-round pick in the 2019 draft.
In parts of three seasons with the Rays, Pruitt logged 199 2/3 innings across 57 relief appearances and 10 starts. The Houston native owns a 4.87 ERA/4.17 FIP for his career with a modest 6.6 K/9 versus 2.3 BB/9. He was up-and-down between Triple-A and the majors each season since making his debut as a 27-year-old in 2017.
The Astros could have used Pruitt as they’ve struggled at times to piece together the arms necessary to build a rotation. Their staff is middling overall in terms of production, ranking 16th in the majors by fWAR, 9th by ERA, and 15th by FIP. Beyond Pruitt, Jose Urquidy has yet to throw a pitch after landing on the COVID-19 injured list, and ace Justin Verlander made just one start before a strained forearm sent him to the IL. Still, Houston happened to have another ace on hand in Zack Greinke, Framber Valdez has broken out and claimed a rotation spot with a 2.58 ERA/2.59 FIP over 6 starts, and rookie Cristian Javier has more than held his own at the back end. The Astros are firmly in playoff position and just 2 games behind the division-leading Athletics.