December 9, 2022

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3 takeaways from Astros' 1st series win of '22

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ANAHEIM — The Astros were able to answer some key early questions in taking three of four games from the Angels to begin the season, including Sunday’s 4-1 win in the finale at Angel Stadium. Rookie shortstop Jeremy Peña made a strong early impression, the pitching staff allowed just 10 runs in four games, and Alex Bregman is off to a quick start. 

Bregman’s two-run single in the fifth inning Sunday put the Astros ahead, 2-1, and the bullpen followed five strong innings by starter José Urquidy with four scoreless. With that, the Astros head to Arizona for a quick two-game series beginning Tuesday.

“I felt like our team came in prepared, and I think that’s due to the hard work put in during Spring Training,” Bregman said. “A lot of guys stepped up. It’s a good start to the season, but a long way to go. Everybody contributed to these wins.”

Here are three takeaways from the season’s first series: 

Peña appears to be the real deal
Four games into a Major League career is way too early to say a player belongs. There have been countless players through the years who got off to quick starts in their careers only to fizzle, but top prospect Peña appears to be here to stay. 

Peña handled the pressure of taking over at shortstop for franchise icon Carlos Correa with poise and hasn’t looked overwhelmed. After going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a fielding error in his debut on Opening Day, Peña rebounded Friday with three hits, including his first homer. He added three more hits Sunday to go 6-for-16 in the series. And he’s looked comfortable defensively in the Astros’ veteran infield.

“He plays older than his age and older than his experience,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “This is how you like young players to play. He’s not in awe of anything, he’s wide-eyed, and his eyes are open. He played well here.” 

Watching his progression as he goes through the league and starts to face the same pitchers multiple times will be a key storyline to 2022. 

“He’s in it every pitch,” Bregman said. “He’s a student of the game, he’s focused and doesn’t take any plays off. He plays amazing defense. It’s definitely fun to watch him play short.”

McCormick, Siri holding their own in center field
The starting center-field combination of Chas McCormick and Jose Siri may work out just fine until Jake Meyers returns, likely after May. Each started two of the first four games in Anaheim in center field and had their moments, with McCormick getting two hits on Opening Day and making a nice catch at the wall on a Mike Trout fly ball on Saturday.

Siri went 2-for-4 in his first start on Friday and made a terrific diving catch in center. He also stole a run when he scampered home on a grounder to third base, sliding in safely ahead of the throw. It’s those kinds of aggressive plays that Baker loves. Siri hit leadoff Sunday and went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks. 

McCormick started against right-handers and Siri against lefties, but Baker didn’t commit to that going forward. 

“Just depends on who I think the matchup is best for and what kind of defense that we need,” he said. “They’re both going to play. Everybody is going to play here. I don’t like guys going too long without playing.”

Rotation sharp early
Because of the shortened Spring Training, Astros starting pitchers came into the regular season a week or so behind where they normally would have been. That meant pitch counts and shorter outings the first time through the rotation, but the body of work was solid. Astros starters Framber Valdez, Jake Odorizzi, Justin Verlander and Urquidy combined to allow just four earned runs in 20 2/3 innings in Anaheim (1.74 ERA).

Luis Garcia, who was second in American League Rookie of the Year voting last year, will get his first start Tuesday against the D-backs in Phoenix. He’ll be on a similar 80-pitch limit before the rotation turns over with Valdez going on Wednesday against Arizona. Baker indicated Sunday the club was waiting to see how Verlander rebounded from his start to determine whether he will pitch Friday or Saturday in Seattle. 

“Hopefully, we keep getting the same quality,” Baker said. “They’re going five innings, almost every one of them, or five-plus. Early in the year, you put more of a workload on your bullpen because your starters aren’t ready to go 80-100 pitches.”

The starters will have two more turns through the rotation before beginning a stretch of 33 games in 34 days on April 22, at which time they’ll likely go with a six-man rotation with Cristian Javier coming from the bullpen.

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