Journeyman Nelson Figueroa will open the season as the Astros’ fifth starter after competing for the job with 20-year-old top prospect Jordan Lyles, who was sent to the minors today.
Lyles was impressive this spring and has a ton of long-term upside, but realistically the Astros are better off letting Figueroa keep the rotation spot warm for a while so he can get a little more seasoning in the minors and delay the start of his service time clock.
Lyles was fantastic at Double-A as a 19-year-old last season, posting a 3.12 ERA and 115/35 K/BB ratio in 127 innings, but struggled a bit following a late-season promotion to Triple-A and started a total of just six games there. There’s no need to rush a 20-year-old into the rotation for a non-contender and Figueroa is capable of holding his own with a 4.65 ERA in 60 career starts.
Brett Myers will start for the Astros on Opening Day, followed by Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, and Figueroa.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉