July 19, 2024

Jake Bloss joins Astros’ lengthy list of injured starting pitchers

HOUSTON — Sixty-six minutes after throwing his first major-league pitch, Jake Bloss became another statistic of a star-crossed season, an apt illustration of an improbable injury plague the Houston Astros cannot curtail. Diverse types of discomfort have dwindled their starting rotation to a near-unrecognizable state, spurring drastic action that ended in disaster.

Bloss bypassed Triple A to make his major-league debut Friday night, the type of daring move second-year general manager Dana Brown has long promised but never produced. Injuries forced it. Neglecting the organization’s upper-level pitching depth this winter didn’t help either.

That Bloss became this team’s last line of defense is a damning indictment of its dire situation. His departure with an athletic trainer during the fourth inning delivered an awful ending to an experiment born out of desperation.

Bloss exited after 79 pitches with what the club called right shoulder “discomfort,” a description the team has exhausted to a point it carries no actual meaning. Bloss described feeling a “tweak” in his shoulder. Manager Joe Espada expects the 22-year-old right-hander to undergo more tests in the next few days.

“It doesn’t feel like anything that serious at all,” Bloss said after Houston’s 14-11 win over the Baltimore Orioles. “Just feels like a little tweak. But we’ll know more tomorrow.”

After Friday night’s game, team sources told The Athletic that the Astros will call up two fresh arms before Saturday’s game: Luis Contreras and Bryan King. Because Houston optioned Contreras on Thursday night, he can only replace a player going on the injured list. Bloss is the most logical possibility.

Bloss will join five other Astros starters on the injured list, should he end up there. Two are out for the season after Tommy John surgery. Two more are recovering from elbow surgeries they underwent last season.

“It’s happening throughout the league, and we have to fight through it. It can’t become a topic,” Espada said. “Everybody is fighting through it. We have to find a way to (go) next man up. … I don’t like taking those trips, and I don’t like any of my players getting hurt. That’s where we’re at, and we need to continue to fight through this.”

Bloss became a footnote in the game’s result. Houston scored nine runs in the sixth inning and surrendered seven in the eighth, forcing overworked setup man Bryan Abreu to throw 16 pitches in a game Houston once led 14-3.

Abreu now leads the sport with 38 appearances. Friday marked the first time in two seasons he pitched on three consecutive days. Abreu has tailored his throwing program to feature fewer pitches in hopes of holding up to such a heavy workload, but the rate at which Houston is deploying him — against the backdrop of its plethora of pitching injuries — is dangerous.

Abreu finished the five-reliever carousel that followed Bloss’ early exit. Thirteen months ago, Bloss finished his college career in a Big East tournament game against Seton Hall. He made eight starts above A-ball before receiving a call-up late Wednesday night, a rapid ascent few in his position have ever authored.

“He’s pitching very well and riding a lot of momentum,” said Lance McCullers Jr., one of the few pitchers who can relate to Bloss’ rise. He, too, skipped Triple A before making his major-league debut in 2015.

“It’s the same game, just under a bigger microscope. For me, him, anyone coming up, it is (about) believing what you were doing when you got the call up — whether that’s Triple A, Double A, whatever the case is — is good enough to succeed here.”

Bloss bullied the handful of Double-A lineups he faced. The Orioles are a different challenge. They lead baseball in runs scored, home runs and slugging percentage. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers awoke Friday with a higher OPS.

Bloss scattered six hits and surrendered two earned runs across the 3 2/3 innings he finished. Poor batted-ball luck betrayed him, but two terrific diving catches from Jake Meyers and Joey Loperfido balanced it out. Bloss generated just nine whiffs on the 40 swings Baltimore took. Only three of the balls put in play against him were hit harder than 98 mph.

“His presence was good. He went after hitters,” Espada said. “I was really excited with what I saw. His demeanor was exactly what people were saying about him.”

Team officials and some opposing scouts advertised Bloss’ fastball at 94-96 mph. He averaged 93.8 mph on the 36 he threw Friday. Landing his curveball and changeup for called strikes allowed him to work ahead in counts during his first trip through Baltimore’s order.

Falling behind put him in peril throughout a 36-pitch third inning. He issued only one walk — on a pitch-timer violation — but fell behind 2-0 or 2-1 against three of the first five hitters he saw. Reliever Nick Hernandez warmed in the bullpen while Bloss’ pitch count grew.

Meyers’ diving catch concluded the inning and ceased activity in Houston’s bullpen. Espada said he did not consider removing Bloss after that long frame.

Thirty-six pitches in one inning isn’t unheard of — and Bloss operated on five days of rest — but the way his outing ended prompted expected questions. Bloss said his arm “felt fine” headed into the fourth inning.

“Usually, some of those long innings, you start to loosen up a little and it feels better almost,” Bloss said. “Obviously, you don’t want the long innings, but it felt fine.”

Bloss did not earn an invitation to major-league spring training, and the club never summoned him to appear in a Grapefruit League game, meaning the coaching staff had never seen him pitch in person. Before Friday, only one member of Houston’s clubhouse, outfielder Chas McCormick, had ever met Bloss.

It forced Espada and pitching coach Josh Miller to study Bloss’ mannerisms in real time, parsing what was standard operating procedure and something totally different.

The fourth inning featured some grimaces and awkward arm wags, but the coaching staff could not be certain if Bloss did that routinely. Espada and assistant athletic trainer John Gregorich darted from the dugout after a four-seam fastball arrived at 90.5 mph.

Bloss asked Espada for one more hitter. The manager appreciated the aggression but shut down another injured starter in a season full of them.

(Photo: Thomas Shea / USA Today)