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Astros Sunday Roundup: Jordan Lyles - Savior of the Universe

Jordan Lyles has great talent, but not enough to turn around the club's fortunes.

There are only three things wrong with this Astros' club. 

They can't hit, can't pitch and can't field. 

Against this backdrop, a flush-faced 20-year-old will stride into the clubhouse, fulfilling a lifetime's ambition to make the major leagues. I wonder whether his enthusiasm will be dampened by the mood, which must be pretty black inside the Astros clubhouse. With the impending change in ownership, some must be concerned about their future, wondering whether they will be DFA'd or traded from a club on pace for a 59-103 record. 

Guess how many times in the franchise history the Astros have lost 100 games? Zero

Whenever a pitching propsect gets called up I always enjoy reciting the parable of Jason Hirsh. Prior to his late-2006 call-up, Hirsh, then 24, had dominated in the Pacific Coast League, going 13-2, and blazing to 12 consecutive wins at one point. 

But as Clack once pointed out to me, TNSTAAPP is a pretty widely accepted theory in baseball circles -there's no such thing as a pitching prospect (god I love Robert A. Heinlein references). However good a pitching prospect, with a few exceptions, all bets are off when they don that major league jersey. 

The arguments have been rehearsed for so long, it is almost wearying to bring them back out now. At 20, should Jordan Lyles be starting in the major leagues, less than three years after being drafted out of high school? There are two easy strands to the argument. One is that he is too young and since there is no rush he should be given time to develop in a pressure free environment in AAA and fine tune his game for 2012. The other side would argue that since the Astros season is effectively over, they can give Lyles major league experience. Super 2 status may come into play if Lyles is not optioned back to AAA when Wandy Rodriguez returns. 

It still bamboozles me as to how this team has the second worst ERA in the National League. Both Brett Myers and J.A. Happ have started the season slowly, and Nelson Figueroa is back in Oklahoma City. The Astros are 10-11 in starts made by either Rodriguez and Norris, and 9-22 when everyone else starts. What few leads the Astros get the bullpen usually squanders them. 

Rodriguez's injury robs the Astros of their best starter and would diminish his trade value if the team planned to put him on the trading block in July. However you could have predicted an injury by rote, and I have said several times during games that leaving Wandy out too long would eventually lead to arm problems. After starts of 118, 126, 114, 108, 114, 113 and 93 pitches, his arm has had enough and given out. Jim Deshaies commented several times that he was laboring through the Blue Jays lineup last start out in the Rogers Center.  

Friday saw the club's 12th blown save of the season, and they had managed to go eight games without doing so, going 4-4 in a stretch where four defensive misplays have cost Astros games. The first one was Clint Barmes' error before the Jose Bautista home run, then Bill Hall's misplay on Tuesday handing the Dodgers a victory, then Friday's game where Wilton Lopez's flip to catcher Humberto Quintero and then last night's error by Bill Hall, put a chain of events in motion which saw Zack Duke hit a three-run homer into the first row of the Crawford Boxes. 

These defensive lapses have not been tough plays, as Bill Hall dropped a J.R. Towles throw when trying to get Stephen Drew on what should have been a strike them out throw them out double play. 

Last night's game was almost farcical, whereas Friday's game most certainly was. Like Rebecca Black the spellbinding awfulness of it all had me laughing for a while, until rage slowly but surely took over. The Astros are 2-7 on Fridays if you were wondering, so they have not been 'getting down on Friday.'

For the second straight start Brett Myers cruised through his first few innings and then fell apart. Bud Norris could do little last night as the offense managed nothing off Duke in his first start for the Arizona Diamondbacks

The worst thing about this week was that the Astros could conceivably have won seven straight games, as they had chances to sweep both the Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers, and take the opener against the Diamondbacks. 

If Bill Hall isn't DFA'd when Jason Bourgeois comes back, who will start his re-hab assignment on Monday, heading to extended Spring Training in Kissimmee Florida before joining the Oklahoma City Redhawks, then Ed Wade isn't worth his salt as General Manager. His offensive limitations are one thing, constant defensive mishaps are another. Like Pedro Feliz last year, you have to know the right time to cut veterans who are not working for your club. 

Lyles is not the only new arrival, as Jeff Keppinger returned this week after foot surgery in January, while Robinson Cancel will fill in for Humberto Quintero, injured in a collision at home plate on Friday. 

I missed the Pete Rose-Ray Fosse incident, but ever since I sat, slighty nauseous in the bleachers of Busch Stadium in 2008, watching Yadier Molina go down and stay down for a long time, I have believed that something needs to be done to protect catchers at home plate. That night it was the Phillies Eric Bruntlett who overturned him. 

Jeff Passan obviously has beliefs to the contrary in a rather contrite piece on the subject. What is it with baseball writers called Jeff?

To be fair to the Diamondbacks Ryan Roberts, the play was a strange one, as Humberto Quintero had fallen over Chris Young's bat, leaving him in an odd squatting position over home plate. But we could do with some clarification over what is allowed for both catchers and runners to do in that situation. 

But, moving back to Lyles for a minute. This is a delicate time for management, as they have a de jure and de facto boss. The most interesting detail of the weekend was that Ed Wade met with Jim Crane on Saturday, by which time the Astros had shifted Norris forward to cover Rodriguez's start, and presumably knew the damage in his elbow.

I would be shocked if part of the conversation did not involve Wade leaning over and saying, "We're thinking of calling up Lyles to take Wandy's rotation spot. Are you cool with that?" Or perhaps they had already made the decision and all Wade had to do was justify the move to the new owner. 

While some may deride this move as a publicity stunt to placate fans who are starting to lose patience with a 19-33 team. Lyles first two starts may take place on the road, which will not help home gate receipts, but it will impact media coverage and viewing figures on the TV. You can bet management is keeping an eagle eye on TV ratings. 

However Wade defended the move yesterday, and said:

"It wasn't about 'Is Jordan ready or not?' We don't know if he's ready or not until he gets up there and gets a chance."

On the plus side it gives us three very raw arms in the rotation who could be around for years to come. Norris, Lyles and Aneury Rodriguez could be a very solid 2,3,4, punch in a year or two. 

Shame about the rest of the roster. 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.