Should Houston Shut Down Its Starters?

By Connor Nielen

Jordan Zimmermann has had a very good season pitching for the Nationals in 2011. It will be over shortly. That’s because Washington has elected to limit their young right-hander’s total innings pitched this year at 160.

The cap is being imposed in an effort to preserve Zimmermann’s long-term health, providing him with a lengthier off-season rest period and reducing the amount of stress on his throwing arm (for now). The pitcher is a prized investment of the organization, so it’s understandable why they would go to great lengths to protect him.

It makes even more sense when considering the fact that the team is out of playoff contention and that the remaining games are relatively meaningless (though it will no doubt agitate certain Fantasy Baseball owners).

So what about the Astros?

At 37-75, it’s evident that this season is very, very over in terms of win-loss relevance. They’re basically better off to keep losing and lock up the top pick in the 2012 draft at this point.

The obvious candidate to be ‘cut-off’ this season is Jordan Lyles. Lyles should absolutely be shut down by September. He’s a raw 20 years old- now having his first career win under his hat, what is there to really gain by running him out there every 5 days the rest of the way? Nothing at all.

Fortunately it appears that the team will be doing just that with Lyles, but should there be others?

Allow me to suggest another pair of Astros who should be ‘shut down’ early this year: Bud Norris and J.A. Happ.

Norris, 26, was forced to exit his last start due to a recurring blood blister on his pitching hand. He is having a very solid campaign, so why not view this ailment as good warning to sit him down and have him enter Spring Training rested and ready to rock?

Meanwhile Happ, 28, is having a nightmare of a season. However, he’s only been in Houston for a year, and he did show plenty of promise in his previous tenure with the Phillies. Perhaps the best thing for Happ right now would be to get away from pitching for awhile, enabling him to mentally cleanse before coming into next year with a fresh, positive approach.

(update: while writing this, the Astros have just demoted Happ to Triple-A Oklahoma City in an effort to find his confidence – regardless of where he’s pitching at the moment, I still believe the best option for him may be to temporarily escape baseball entirely)

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