Astros enclosure clings to optimism as marathon program begins


The disintegrating Astros bullpen appears to finally be on the mend, just in time for a marathon portion of the schedule.

Thursday night’s game against the Angels kicks off an eight-game home streak and an 11-game winning streak for the Astros, who only have one day off until May 16.

The Astros’ pitching has been appalling lately with no reliable options.

“It seems like whoever you turn to right now, it’s not the right decision,” coach Dusty Baker said Tuesday after a 6-2 loss to the Rockies.

But there is optimism that the upcoming series of matches is an opportunity to turn things around.

“It was a strange start to the year,” reliever Joe Smith said Thursday. “We’ve always had the best results when we play games, when we can get our hitters every day to the bats. We will see the offense we know we have. And then I think we start to understand pitching, to see who can do what. And it will come. We are a great baseball team. We just haven’t put it in place.

Smith, who opted out of the 2020 season, himself struggled to regain the form he showed in 2019. He has a 14.40 ERA in eight appearances and in five innings he has produced 11 hits and two homers. Smith said that although he was frustrated he was able to regain some speed on his cursor and feels good with his lead. Now it’s a matter of consistency.

“I know the results have been absolutely horrible,” he said. “But in Seattle, the outing I had in Seattle, which still wasn’t good, was probably the first day since camp where I really felt like, ‘Okay, we’re on to something. I’m better.'”

Right-hander Cristian Javier makes the start Thursday after spending the last 12 days at the alternative training site to increase his endurance.

“We’re hoping he can make maybe 100 shots. I think it’s gone 90.95 on the alternate site, ”Baker said. “We are confident he will pitch well today.”

The Astros should also benefit from the return of Lance McCullers Jr., who will enter the series final on Sunday after skipping his final lap of the rotation. McCullers said he was completely cured of respiratory problems which he said were the result of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We now have a lot of technology that can kind of show you where your body is,” he said. “The day after I started or two days after I was around 20-30% strength. And then yesterday, I came back to 100. So I feel ready to ride.

Baker also said a pair of injured list relievers Andre Scrubb and Enoli Paredes are progressing towards a comeback.

“Scrubb is closer than Paredes. But I mean, it’s big. Huge, ”Baker said. “I mean, it’s a power side of our enclosure that we missed. And these two guys were a big part of what we did last year.


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