With the Houston Astros set to enjoy their second off day in eight days on Monday and their third in 11 days on Sept. 1, logic dictated the shift from a six- to a five-man rotation entering the weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles.
The initial result of that change left something to be desired as Astros right-hander Cristian Javier, making his first relief appearance since May 8, surrendered a two-run homer in his first inning of work as the visiting Orioles opened the three-game set with a 2-0 victory on Friday.
Javier had made 17 consecutive starts before piggybacking with right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., who made just his third start after missing 114 games with a right flexor tendon strain. McCullers labored with his control over five shutout innings, recording just 50 strikes among his 90 pitches. Javier then covered three of the final four innings to spare a shortened bullpen.
“He was throwing the ball well,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said of Javier. “He’s got a fastball on the third baseman (Ramon Urias) and that was the difference in the game.
“Our bullpen is in much better shape with two games to go before the off day.”
Right-hander Jose Urquidy (12-4, 3.63 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros on Saturday.
Urquidy allowed two runs on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts over seven innings in a 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday. He is 7-1 with a 2.63 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and .547 opponent OPS since June 14. He has recorded 11 quality starts during that 12-start stretch.
Urquidy is 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA in two career starts against Baltimore, both coming last season.
Right-hander Dean Kremer (5-4, 3.45) has the starting assignment for the Orioles.
Kremer allowed one run on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the Little League Classic on Sunday.
He is 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA over his last four starts and is 3-2 with a 3.72 ERA over seven road starts this season.
Kremer will make his first career appearance against the Astros.
Baltimore faced an old standby in Houston designated hitter Trey Mancini, who spent six seasons and played 701 games with the Orioles prior to being shipped to the Astros at the trade deadline.
Mancini had long been a fixture in Baltimore, with his departure opening the door for the ascendant Orioles to get even young in the field and at the plate.
Mancini went 0-for-3 with a walk in the series opener, including striking out with runners on first and second to end the game.
“Losing Trey is going to hurt your lineup for his run-producing ability and his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, the experience,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’re lacking experience and I think you see that at times.
“But we’re talented, and we have some guys that are talented coming through our system. We’re young in the major leagues but we have good speed, we play good defense and we have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Now we’ve just to continue to improve.”