By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The pitching situation for Dusty Baker and the Houston Astros has gone from bad to worse in an instant.READ MORE: 1 Person Hospitalized After Roxbury Shooting On Rockland Street
After using eight pitchers in Game 1, five pitchers in Game 2, and six pitchers in Game 3, the Astros’ pitching staff is a bit taxed. That’s what happens when you get 5.1 combined innings from your three starters.
As such, Baker is calling upon Zack Greinke to start Tuesday night’s Game 4 at Fenway Park. And it feels like more of a Hail Mary than anything else.
“Just as long as he can go,” Baker said when asked if he’s looking for a traditional start out of the veteran or more of an “opener” role. “As long as his endurance is fine. Like I said, as long as he can go.”
Greinke has a Cy Young Award, two ERA titles, and six All-Star appearances to his name, but he has not been that pitcher at all since returning from the COVID list in mid-September. Though Greinke said he only suffered symptoms for a day, he was not the same pitcher in his final three appearances of the season as he was for most of the year.
In his final two starts, Greinke allowed 13 runs — 12 earned — off 10 hits and four walks, surrendering four home runs to the Rangers and Diamondbacks. He didn’t pitch for two weeks after that, spending time on the IL with neck soreness. He finally made a relief appearance on the final day of the regular season; he allowed two runs off two hits — one of which being a home run — in 2.1 innings.
Greinke did pitch a scoreless inning in the ALDS, though he did allow two inherited runners to score, turning a 6-6 tie into an 8-6 deficit. The Astros went on to lose, 12-6.
Overall, he’s pitched just 3.1 innings since Sept. 20.
Greinke’s recent history with Boston isn’t encouraging for Houston, either. He started at Fenway Park on June 10, and he lasted just three innings. He allowed four runs — all earned — on seven hits and a walk, striking out two batters and serving up a homer to J.D. Martinez.READ MORE: Supply Chain Issues: How Are Global Shortages Affecting Local Customers?
Going back to late August, Greinke allowed seven home runs in his final five appearances of the season.
Considering the historic rate at which the Red Sox are hitting home runs this postseason, it seems like a frightening recipe for the Astros to mess with.
Yet after burning through so many arms, Baker doesn’t have many options.
“What it does, your bullpen is taxed. That’s what it does,” Baker said of the short starts through three games. “You’re asking everybody to do probably a lot more than you would ever ask them to do, multiple innings, back-to-back days. You know, we need some zeros out there for an extended period of time, and hopefully we’ll get that tomorrow.”
If or when Greinke can’t get any more outs, the Astros have Cristian Javier ready in relief. Javier was a starter early in the season, but was moved to the bullpen in late May. From July through the end of the season, he pitched three innings exactly once, averaging 1.2 innings and 32 pitches per outing. He’ll likely be physically able to do more in Game 4, provided he can retire some hitters.
He had two very different experiences with the Red Sox lineup this season. On June 3, he allowed two runs off three hits and three walks while striking out six batters in his three innings of work. Six days later, he pitched four scoreless innings of relief, allowing just a single hit while striking out three.
Whether Javier enters a close game or another one where the Astros are behind big early is entirely up to Greinke.
“It’s big. I mean, it’s an important part,” Greinke said prior to Game 3 of his opportunity in Game 4. “Great group of guys here. Some of the best guys that I’ve been around, and it’s an important game, so I’ll do what I can. Hopefully help us out.”
In Game 4, the Red Sox will start Nick Pivetta, who had an up-and-down season but has been steady in the playoffs, allowing three runs in his 8.2 innings in relief. That included four scoreless innings in the Game 3 walkoff win over the Rays in the ALDS. And with Eduardo Rodriguez giving Boston six strong innings last night, and with the big lead allowing Alex Cora to give his top relievers an extra night of rest, the Red Sox will be going at the Astros with all they have on Tuesday night.MORE NEWS: Brad Marchand Reveals What He Said To Artemi Panarin, Shares Disappointment With Suspension Decision
The soon-to-be-38-year-old Greinke obviously has the resume, but does he have the stuff? The answer to that question will go a long way toward deciding Game 4 and, really, the series.