February 2, 2023

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Javier bounces back, cements rotation spot

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Young righty delivers longest outing of the season, but bats denied by Martín Pérez
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HOUSTON — The Astros have dominated the Rangers for the better part of the last couple of seasons, having strung together 11 straight home victories over their AL West and intrastate rivals since Sept. 16, 2020.  

That run came to an end on Friday at Minute Maid Park, with the Astros yielding somewhat quietly — at least, by their standards — to the Rangers, 3-0. This had less to do with Houston starter Cristian Javier and everything to do with Rangers lefty Martín Pérez, whose first complete-game shutout in eight years silenced an Astros offense that rarely goes down without a fight.

Had Pérez been a little less dominant, more attention would be on Javier, who bounced back from his worst career outing to turn in one of his best. He tied his career high with nine strikeouts, six of which were recorded in the first three innings.

It was a dramatic course correction from his prior outing in Washington, when he yielded seven runs to the Nationals and failed to make it out of the fourth inning. 

This time, Javier’s lone flaw was a two-out solo homer to Kole Calhoun, who entered Friday batting .385 over his last 12 games. 

“[Javier] threw the ball well, except for the home run,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Usually, a solo home run doesn’t beat this team. … This is Calhoun — he’s like 8-for-10 or 8-for-11 with three home runs. He sees the ball well off of Javy.”

The difference from one start to the next for Javier, according to Baker, was location, especially with his breaking stuff. 

“He was getting behind the last [outing], throwing that high fastball — but it was too high,” Baker said. “This time, he was in the strike zone. He threw the ball well. Young pitchers, you’re going to get that inconsistency sometimes. But he was awesome tonight.” 

“I definitely think it was better,” Javier said of his breaking ball. “The pitch was moving how I expected it to move. They were calling first-[pitch] strikes, which was the big thing. 

“I just tried to stay positive. That bad outing in Washington happened in the past. Just trying to stay positive and move forward.”

Javier is still building up after starting the season in the bullpen. His start Friday was his fourth in eight appearances after moving to the rotation from a long-relief role at the end of April.

That translated to a loose innings limit in this start against the Rangers. Baker said Javier was coming out after the sixth “no matter what.” As Ryne Stanek warmed up, Javier had few issues in his final inning, inducing a double play from Corey Seager after walking Marcus Semien. 

The six-inning outing was Javier’s longest of the season. With uncertainty surrounding Jake Odorizzi’s injury situation and a past history of handling any assignment the Astros hand him, Javier can likely count on sticking in the rotation long term. His performance Friday further cemented his spot.

“I feel like [Javier] did his job, keeping us in a one-run game,” catcher Martín Maldonado said. “He did his job. Our bullpen was fresh today and with the big boys out there, that’s all you can ask from a starter.”

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