It’s already known the Astros will enter the 2020 campaign missing veteran reliever Joe Smith, who’s on the restricted list. It now appears they’ll begin without a few other notable bullpen pieces, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com writes. Closer Roberto Osuna and fellow right-handers Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt are unlikely to be available when the team’s season opens Friday.
Osuna, the most important member of the group, reported to camp late and hasn’t thrown off a mound yet. However, manager Dusty Baker said Osuna’s “not hurt,” adding that the club’s hopeful he’ll “be ready sooner than later.” Even he does miss only a small amount of time, Osuna’s void will be rather difficult to fill. The 25-year-old turned in another effective season in 2019, throwing 65 innings of 2.63 ERA ball and racking up 38 saves in 44 tries. Righty Ryan Pressly seems like the most logical candidate to take over as Houston’s go-to game-ending choice, though he also hasn’t been at full strength of late because of a finger blister.
As is the case with Osuna, it’s unclear how long Peacock and Pruitt will stay on the shelf. Peacock’s down with shoulder inflammation, which he also dealt with last year during a season in which he racked up 91 2/3 innings of 4.12 ERA pitching over 23 appearances (15 starts). Pruitt, meanwhile, has a bone bruise in his right elbow, but he did express optimism last week (via Adam Coleman of the Houston Chronicle) that he’ll be ready sometime soon. The first time he takes the mound this year will be his Astros debut, as the team acquired the 30-year-old from the Rays over the winter. In his final season as a Ray, Pruitt logged a 4.40 ERA in 47 innings.
Peacock and Pruitt could be candidates to make starts this year if they do return to health. For now, though, the Astros’ rotation – which lost Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in free agency – will consist of Lance McCullers and Josh James behind aces Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. The Astros haven’t decided on a fifth starter, but McTaggart pegs lefty Framber Valdez as the favorite.
James and Valdez have only made 17 starts between them since they came into the league in 2018, but they did combine for 132 innings a year ago. While the hard-throwing James posted a whopping 14.67 K/9 in 61 1/3 frames, an ugly 5.14 BB/9 helped lead to an unspectacular 4.70 ERA. Valdez also had trouble with control and run prevention, as his 5.6 BB/9 and 5.86 ERA in 70 2/3 frames indicate, though he did record a stellar 62.1 percent groundball rate.