WASHINGTON — Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch will turn to rookie Jose Urquidy as his starter against the Washington Nationals when his club tries to even the World Series in Game 4 on Saturday.
Urquidy, 24, pitched most of the season in the minor leagues but appeared in in nine games over two big league stints during the regular season. He went 2-1 with a 3.95 ERA. After starting five games in July with 5.87 ERA, he returned to the majors in September and posted a 1.50 ERA over four outings, including two starts, striking out 16 batters in 18 innings.
“Jose Urquidy will start,” Hinch said. “He can go as long as he’s good. I don’t have a predetermined plan on how many innings, how many pitches. It’s Game 4 of the World Series, all things are being considered. Jose gets the ball.”
His late-season surge earned Urquidy a place on the Astros’ postseason roster and enough confidence from Hinch to take the mound on baseball’s biggest stage. After winning 4-1 in Game 3 on Friday, Houston still trails the series 2-1, so Urquidy will be pitching to not only draw his team even, but to ensure a return trip to Minute Maid Park.
So far during the postseason, Urquidy has appeared in two games out of the Houston bullpen. He threw 1⅔ scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, and gave up one run over 2⅔ innings against the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
Urquidy was told that he was getting the ball Saturday after Game 3 ended. He said he is grateful for the chance, and not just for himself.
“Obviously very happy, very few Mexicans have had this opportunity,” Urquidy said through an interpreter, though he also answered questions in English. “For me to be in this position, I’m obviously very happy about that and we will try and take advantage of it as much as possible.”
The only two pitchers born in Mexico who have started games in the World Series are Fernando Valenzuela and Jaime Garcia.
Urquidy, a right-hander, is a hard thrower who reaches the mid-90s or more with his fastball but also features a plus changeup that has actually made him more effective against left-handed hitters thus far in his big league career. However, beyond the impressive tools, his teammates think he has the mindset to focus under such a bright spotlight.
“[He has] a lot of confidence, first and foremost,” Astros outfielder Michael Brantley said. “He goes out there and competes at a high level every time he took the ball for us so far. We expect the same thing tomorrow. I don’t think the stage is too big for him.”
When Houston has gone to a bullpen game, Urquidy served as the “bulk” pitcher, a new role that has emerged the past couple of seasons in baseball thanks to the advent of the opener. This time, against a balanced Washington lineup, the need to deploy an opener is not so clear-cut. Thus Hinch will deploy Urquidy as a traditional starter, with no set limit on how far he could go.
“I’m going to try and be focused,” Urquidy said. “I’m going to try and learn from these three games about what I’m going to throw and I’m going to be ready to compete tomorrow.”
The Astros might need Urquidy to get through the Nationals’ lineup at least a couple of times after Game 3, when Hinch went to his bullpen during the fifth inning after pulling starter Zack Greinke. Houston’s two most effective middle relievers — Will Harris and Joe Smith — both threw at least 18 pitches Friday.
Of course, Hinch reminded everyone that usage issues, when it comes to the World Series, are a secondary concern. If he needs Harris or Smith, he will use them.
“They will be available tomorrow,” Hinch said. “This is all hands on deck every day. They are tremendous pitchers. They are trustworthy.”
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