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Depth perception (Astros)

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by BobFinn*, Feb 5, 2003.

  1. BobFinn*

    BobFinn* Contributing Member

    Feb 10, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Depth perception

    Houston has a lot riding on the back-end of its rotation
    by Tom Verducci, Inside Baseball, Sports Illustrated

    Any club that hopes to be a contender should have two strong starters at the front of its rotation. What separates many teams from the rest of the pack is who they have in the No. 3 and 4 spots. By that rule of thumb, the Astros should be concerned. As great as Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller can be, Houston is also counting on one pitcher who turns 35 next month and is eight months removed from back surgery and another who is 31 and who fooled few hitters last year -- his first since rotator cuff surgery. Shane Reynolds and Brian Moehler may have more to do with where the Astros finish than second baseman Jeff Kent, the club's major free-agent acquisition.

    Houston had counted on left-hander Carlos Hernandez to give depth to its rotation, but he is now lost for the season after surgery on his left rotator cuff.

    "This wasn't a major surprise," GM Gerry Hunsicker said. "We wanted to give it one last shot to avoid surgery."

    Moehler, signed as a free agent, is what Hunsicker called "an innings-eater," a euphemism in the sport for somebody who pitches often, but not particularly well. Batters pounded the right-hander for a .302 batting average last season, when he was 3-5 in 13 games. His career record is 50-56.

    "Last year he had the typical transition year coming back from surgery," Hunsicker said.

    Reynolds, despite undergoing season-ending back surgery last June, is counted on to be a force once again in the rotation. If he can pitch as he did in 1998 and '99, when he was 35-22, Houston is a rock-solid contender. If he more resembles his form of the past three years, when he was 24-25, the Astros may be in trouble.

    "The signs are very encouraging," Hunsicker said. "He's throwing off the mound, throwing all his pitches, and says he hasn't felt this good in years. We're very optimistic. He'll start spring training with no limitations."

    Consider how the Angels' season turned in 2002. They started the year with the only rotation in the majors with five starters who had won at least 10 games the previous season. Aaron Sele and Ramon Ortiz could have been considered Anaheim's third and fourth starters behind Jarrod Washburn and Kevin Appier. Ortiz won 15 games. Sele won only eight before he broke down, but rookie John Lackey stepped in with nine wins in 18 starts. The depth of the Angels' rotation helped carried them to the World Series -- as did that of their opponent, San Francisco.

    If Reynolds or Moehler falter, does Houston have a Lackey waiting in the wings? Is it left-hander Jeriome Robertson, who turns 26 next month and has already invested seven seasons in the minors? He'll contend for the fifth spot with Peter Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Tim Redding, Jared Fernandez and Jesus Sanchez. It's not an overwhelming group.

    "People talk about pitching, but our offense has been in a steady decline from three years ago,'' Hunsicker said. "We scored 100 fewer runs in 2001 and 180 fewer runs last year than two years ago. That's a lot of runs to make up."

    Still, only four NL teams outscored Houston last year. Kent and a rejuvenated Richard Hidalgo could push Houston back over the 800-run mark. Whether that's enough to give the Astros the NL Central title will depend on Reynolds and Moehler.


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