The Houston Astros' eight-man rotation experiment has ended at the Triple-A level.
The Astros will continue to rotate eight starting pitchers at Double-A and lower levels. But because of injuries and pitchers shuttling between Houston and Triple-A Oklahoma City, the RedHawks have returned to a traditional five-man rotation.
Quinton McCracken, the Astros director of player development, said circumstances required scrapping the original plan even though the RedHawks still have seven pitchers the organization feel could be starters.
The “piggyback” concept features four groups of two pitchers that form a four-day rotation. The starter is limited to five innings or 75 pitches. The “piggyback” starter is limited to 60 pitches. They reverse roles the next time through the rotation.
“We had a stint in the majors where three of our starters didn't get out of the second inning,” McCracken said. “That kind of took its toll on the rotation in OKC with all the shuffling.”
Dallas Keuchel made four relief appearances with the Astros. Brett Oberholtzer logged a one-day, two-inning stint in the majors. Paul Clemens and Jose Cisnero currently are in Houston.
Injuries also were a factor.
After making one start with the RedHawks, John Ely, last year's Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year in the Dodgers system, was diagnosed with a chronic elbow injury. Ely underwent surgery and will not pitch the remainder of the season.
Rudy Owens, who made four appearances with the RedHawks, recently underwent foot surgery for a stress fracture. Owens will be sidelined until August.
The original plan was the RedHawks eventually would revert to a five-man rotation at some point in May.
Because the change happened earlier than projected, it shouldn't be much of an adjustment. Early in the season, pitchers are getting stretched out, building their pitch count. The Astros limit minor league pitchers to 100 pitches a game through June.
“They're just now on the cusp of getting up to 90,” said RedHawks pitching coach Steve Webber. “We went to it because we felt we had an abundance of good starters in the organization at every level.”