Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker set his rotation for the upcoming three-game series against the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, providing the first glimpse of his shortened five-man rotation.
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. will start the opener against the Orioles on Friday, and he’ll be followed by right-handers Jose Urquidy and Justin Verlander.
Left-hander Framber Valdez and righty Luis Garcia are due to follow, with right-hander Cristian Javier missing his turn in the rotation. Garcia earned the win on Thursday as the Astros beat the Minnesota Twins 6-3 to complete a three-game sweep.
While Baker was noncommittal about Javier remaining in the bullpen, the 25-year-old Dominican serves as the best option to toggle between roles. He is 7-8 with a 2.88 ERA in 19 starts this season, and he has worked 11 1/3 scoreless innings over four relief appearances, striking out 17 and walking just two.
“We’re trying to preserve our starters and put them on some kind of rotation,” Baker said of the move from a six-man rotation. “The fact that somewhat we don’t know how far Lance will go, we may need somebody (to work long relief on Friday). These guys are pitching a lot lately.
“We’re doing what we can to mix and match and win games.”
McCullers (1-1, 2.45 ERA) will make his third start after missing the season’s first 114 games with a right flexor strain suffered last postseason.
He threw six shutout innings in his season debut against the Oakland Athletics, allowing two hits and four walks while recording five strikeouts in an 8-0 victory on Aug. 13.
McCullers surrendered three runs on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts over five innings in a 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 19. After tossing 81 pitches against the Athletics, McCullers threw 91 pitches vs. Atlanta.
McCullers is 3-0 with a 3.46 ERA over six career appearances (four starts) against Baltimore. He hasn’t faced the Orioles since 2018, when he blanked them for 1 1/3 innings over two relief appearances.
Rookie right-hander Kyle Bradish (1-5, 6.25 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Orioles. He produced his third career start without issuing a walk against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, allowing three runs on nine hits with six strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings in a 4-3 loss.
He has worked at least five innings in four of his past five starts and is 1-1 with a 6.18 ERA on the road.
Bradish will face the Astros for the first time in his career.
The Orioles got off the mat on Thursday with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning and capped the rally in the 11th for a 4-3 win over the visiting Chicago White Sox.
Locked in the thick of the American League wild-card chase, the Orioles got a dramatic home run from Kyle Stowers to send the game into extras, his first career dinger coming against Chicago closer Liam Hendriks.
The blast came after White Sox left fielder Adam Engel dropped a foul fly by Stowers, a ball that should have been the final out.
“I just knew I had another chance,” Stowers said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
The victory provided a good sendoff as the Orioles begin a six-game swing through Houston and Cleveland.
“We’re facing two of the hottest teams in the game right now coming up,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We know how good Houston is. Hopefully, we can play good baseball on this road trip.”