How Thin is the Astros Rotation After Framber Valdez’s Injury?

With Framber Valdez out with injury, how are the Houston Astros going to construct their rotation for the first part of the season?

HOUSTON, TEXAS - MARCH 28: Members of the Houston Astros pitching staff walk to the dugout before the game against the New York Yankees during Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on March 28, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Make it stop. Please make it stop. The rash of injuries to MLB pitchers over the last few days has become nearly unbearable. The latest comes in the form of Houston Astros ace, Framber Valdez.

It is not yet known to what extent Valdez’s injury will be, but when a starting pitcher complains of elbow soreness, the end results are usually not good. Perhaps some rest is necessary, or it could be worse. Far worse.

Either way, the Astros’ starting rotation is razor thin at the moment.

That is even with the herculean effort of Ronel Blanco over his first two starts. Out of nowhere Blanco has thrown a no-hitter and taken another one into the sixth inning of his second outing. In 15 innings of work he has a 0.00 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and a 0.467 WHIP.

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With all of the other injuries that have already been heaped on the Astros rotation, there are limited options at the moment. A few guys in the minor leagues, a future Hall of Famer that is building up from his own injury, and a long-man out of the current bullpen.

Let’s take a look at how GM Dana Brown might be looking to piece together a rotation for the rest of the first half of the season.

Current Astros Rotation

With Valdez down, the current state of the Houston rotation is severely depleted. As mentioned above, Blanco has been phenomenal.

Cristian Javier has also been stellar on the mound. He will need to continue to pitch well as he bounces back from a rough 2023 campaign.

Houston Astros Rotation
1.  RHP Cristian Javier
2. RHP Hunter Brown
3. RHP J.P. Frace
4. RHP Ronel Blanco

Hunter Brown has all of the stuff to be a quality middle of the rotation guy. Now he is going to have to step up his game even more than first thought this season.

Manager Joe Espada will be looking to Brown to not only pitch well, but to eat up innings. Last season he pitched 155.2 innings and will ideally go more than that this year.

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So far that hasn’t been the case. Brown has logged just seven innings in his first two starts of 2024. He will need to find a way to go longer into games by throwing strikes and limiting damage.

J.P. France is the other remaining current rotation piece. He had a solid rookie season in 2023.

For him to be an effective part of the Astros rotation, France will need to stay within himself and look for a repeat performance of last season. If he is able to do that, Houston would consider him a valuable part of this fragile rotation situation.

Next Man up for Astros Rotation

What was recently considered an area of surplus for Houston, has become an area of concern. Fortunately, for the Astros they still have one of the best offenses in the game. Additionally, their bullpen should be one of the top ones in MLB over the course of the 162-game season as well.

But who is Espada going to be able to run out to the mound to start every fifth day in Valdez’s absence?

Justin Verlander is ramping up his work but isn’t quite ready yet. He will more than likely require at least one more rehab start this coming weekend.

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His first rehab start didn’t go very well, but as is the case for most outings of its kind, it is more about getting the work in and making sure the pitcher feels well afterwards. On that front, all signs seem to be pointing to a JV return to Houston sometime within the next few weeks.

Big League Candidate to Spot Start for Astros

One option that the Astros have is already on their 26-man roster. Brandon Bielak, who is currently in the bullpen, is no stranger to starting.

In 2023, Bielak started 13 games for the Astros. He pitched a total of 80 innings for the club last season and has already thrown 6.2 innings this season in his three outings. Bielak had a rough outing on Saturday against the Texas Rangers but bounced back on Monday night to throw two scoreless innings only allowing just one hit.

Last season Bielak was serviceable. He posted a 3.83 ERA but did have a 5.19 FIP. He only had 7.0 K/9 and also had a high 4.1 BB/9.

Bielak isn’t a fantastic option, but he might be the best one available until Verlander gets back.

Minor League Options for Astros Rotation

The first option isn’t actually a minor league option at the moment. Blair Henley is the crafty right hander that got the call to start at the last minute in Valdez’s absence on Monday night.

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Henley who attended Arlington Heights High School before pitching at the University of Texas struggled with command in his MLB debut. Nerves were extraordinarily high for Henley, as can be expected. It was uncharacteristic for him to be so all over the place.

I, for one, hope that the kid gets another chance soon. This time without the pressure of MLB debuts and pitching in front of his hometown crowd. But with only one Triple-A start in his career it would be expected that he returns to Sugar Land to continue to work on his craft.

Speaking of Sugar Land, the Space Cowboys – you really have to love minor league team names – have three other arms that could be options throughout the season. None of the three are on the current 40-man roster and thus would require a corresponding move.

Spencer Arrighetti, Rhett Kouba, and Colton Gordon are all starters with promise. Arrighetti is the most highly ranked of the group. Gordon is a lefty that is currently on the IL himself, so he wouldn’t be available for at least another few weeks.

Arrighetti pitched in Sugar Land’s season opener in Round Rock. I was covering that game and he looked really good. He is a competitor that is going to battle every hitter with all that he has.

Is he ready to make his MLB debut? Perhaps, and we’re going to find out very soon what he’s made of, as Chandler Rome of The Athletic reports that Arrighetti’s contract has been selected from Triple-A.

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Kouba is a strike thrower that finished his college career at Dallas Baptist University. He doesn’t overpower anyone, but instead keeps the hitter off balance with his effective use of all of his pitches. In 2023 he was named Texas League – Double-A – pitcher of the year.  

Help is on the Way – Eventually

If rehabs keep progressing, the Astros should get both Lance McCullers Jr. and Luis Garcia back sometime at the end of July or first part of August. That is fantastic news, but there is a ton of baseball to be played between now and then.

Help will have to come from somewhere and as you can see the options are limited and mostly unproven. It will be a test for the defending AL West champs. But they have been tested before and know how to win.

The rotation hits keep coming for the Astros. With the injuries mounting, 2024 might be the biggest trial that this Houston dynasty has had to overcome.

If only Yordan Alvarez could pitch like he hits. Then there would be little to worry about in Houston.