HOUSTON — The Astros could soon be at a crossroads on what to do with veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who hasn’t been able to build on a promising spring and gave up six runs (three earned) in two-thirds of an inning in his third start of the season Wednesday against the Angels.
While Angels starter Shohei Ohtani retired the first 16 Astros he faced, including 12 by strikeout, Odorizzi recorded only two outs. He allowed the first five batters to reach base and all five eventually scored as the Angels beat the Astros, 6-0, at Minute Maid Park.
Odorizzi has thrown nine innings in three starts this season and has given up 12 runs (nine earned) on 16 hits and seven walks while striking out five. His start on Wednesday tied for the second shortest of his career; he pitched one-third of an inning on April 24 last year in a game he left with a right arm injury.
“Not enough strikes,” said Odorizzi, who threw 22 of 42 pitches in the zone. “I thought I executed some good pitches, but it boils down to getting ahead and less pitches per at-bat.”
Despite struggling over his last two starts, Astros manager Dusty Baker said Odorizzi would remain in the starting rotation.
“It’s only been two starts,” Baker said. “That would be the shortest leash in history. Hopefully, his next start, he’ll be better.”
Odorizzi began the game by walking Ohtani, and things went downhill from there. He walked three of the first four batters he faced and had thrown 33 pitches before he struck out Max Stassi for the first out of the game. He was pulled after issuing a bases-loaded walk to No. 8 hitter Tyler Wade.
“You don’t want to walk the leadoff guy,” Odorizzi said. “From that point on, trying to get the next guy out and it rolls into the next thing. We all know how it was from there. I missed a lot up [in the zone] last time in Seattle and the focus today was [pitching] down. The misses were small, but at the end of the day, if they’re still misses, it’s essentially all the same.”
The Astros have an ideal candidate to join the rotation at their fingertips. Cristian Javier came on in relief and threw 55 pitches in 3 2/3 scoreless innings. Javier, who finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2020, has bounced between the rotation and bullpen the last three years. He’s 8-3 with a 3.42 ERA in 19 career starts and has a 3.23 ERA as a reliever.
“You saw what he’s capable of tonight,” catcher Jason Castro said. “He’s got a plus mix of pitches. His fastball is a very good pitch for him. Just getting him to command his offspeed … he did a very nice job tonight on staying within himself and not trying to overthrow it. That allowed him to get ahead and not just rely on his fastball, and mix speeds pretty much at will. It was good to see from him.”
Baker said Javier was set to pitch a few innings in relief of Odorizzi anyway on Wednesday in an attempt to get him further stretched out. After Thursday’s off-day, the Astros will begin a stretch where they’ll play 33 games in 34 days, and they’re likely to utilize a six-man rotation coming off a shortened Spring Training. Javier would be the sixth starter.
“We are coming up on a very long stretch of games now, so we might go to a six-man [rotation],” Baker said. “We’ve been talking about that. That’s why we wanted to get him stretched out tonight.”
Odorizzi said the only thing he can do is continue to grind and move forward. He said his stuff has gotten better each game, but the results just aren’t there yet.
“I’ve learned over my years that dwelling on good, bad is not really helpful,” he said. “The start is the start, and you move on to the next. Mentally, it doesn’t really affect me more. It’s just frustration in the moment. You move on and check out video, whatever it might be. That’s about the only way you go.”