Richard Justice: The Astros have France, Bielak and Brown lined up to pitch this weekend, and who said this season wasn’t going to be interesting?

May 6, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher J.P. France (68) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Richard Justice: The Astros have France, Bielak and Brown lined up to pitch this weekend, and who said this season wasn’t going to be interesting?

   This probably wasn’t a weekend series Astros fans circled on their calendars. Three road games against the Chicago White Sox? This was a box to be checked on the road to October.

   Now it’s a chance to see the Astros rearranged rotation in action because of how the pitching is lined up: J.P. France, Brandon Bielak, and Hunter Brown getting the starts against a White Sox team with MLB’s third-worst record (13-24).

   That’s a 14th-round draft choice (France), an 11th-rounder (Bielak), and a fifth-rounder (Brown). These three are a nod to a player development system that continues to churn out major leaguers.

   They’ve made just 24 major league starts, 14 of those by Brown, who was a very pleasant—and at times dominant—surprise last season. He made this season’s Opening Day rotation after Lance McCullers Jr. was unable to go.

   He has been spectacular at times, especially in delivering seven-inning shutouts in three of his first five starts. He has struggled in his last two, allowing 20 base runners in 8 2/3 innings. But those tough days at the office are part of the growth virtually every young pitcher experiences.

   Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier just turned in terrific performances in Anaheim and reminded all of MLB that, for all the Astros’ problems, these two make them a formidable postseason opponent.

   If McCullers is able to contribute by then, Dusty Baker could line up three potentially dominant postseason starters to go with one of baseball’s best bullpens.

   By then, the Astros surely will have their offensive issues sorted out. Jose Altuve will be back by then, and hopefully, Michael Brantley (which seems less certain at this point).

   The Astros almost certainly will be shopping for pitching at the trade deadline, but that’s more than two months away. Until then, the Astros have a great opportunity to evaluate what they have.

   First, though, they’ve got to get to October, and that’s a more difficult task with injuries to Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy. Which brings us to this weekend.

   When Urquidy and Garcia got hurt in back-to-back games, Bielak and France were summoned from Sugar Land. Bielak has been solid enough in two appearances, and France pitched five shutout innings in his major league debut in Seattle.

   Their story will be written as teams adjust to their stuff and challenge them to readjust on the fly. This is part of the process, but there’s zero question both of them have major league-caliber stuff.

   France was especially impressive in showing off five pitches, including a wicked slider. He struggled with it at times, but when he teased enough of it in the strike zone, it looked like a tremendous weapon.

   These guys are why we love this stuff. On Opening Day, none of us could have guessed how important Mauricio Dubón and Corey Julks would be. Nor could we have predicted how Jeremy Peña and Alex Bregman would struggle.

   We couldn’t have envisioned the Astros struggling mightily at Minute Maid Park (8-11) and playing its best baseball on the road (11-7). The Astros weren’t in a good place after losing four of six to the Giants and Phillies on the last home stand.

   That drop-off came after a road swing in which they’d won five of six against the Braves and Rays. But they’ve righted things again by splitting six games against the Mariners and Angels in which the rotation produced an outstanding 3.09 ERA.

   This weekend begins a stretch in which the Astros play 12 of 15 games against teams with losing records as of today. France and Bielak will have a chance to settle into their new gigs.

   There’s sure to be some bumps in the road, and it’ll be interesting to see how they handle them. Given how the Astros have incorporated so much young pitching into the mix the last few seasons, it would not be smart to bet against them doing it again.

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1 Comment

  • Richard, please share your thoughts on Forest Whitley, Grae Kessinger and Kory Lee—do you see any of these three (3) making any contributions in Houston? Many thanks and I thoroughly enjoy reading your comments.

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