James allowed three runs on four hits and three walks while striking out four over 3.2 innings in Tuesday's split-squad game against the Braves. James had been brilliant through his first two spring appearances but faced a challenge in his third. The walks, a bane during his career, were the first permitted in Grapefruit League action. Despite the results, James likely has the inside track on the No. 5 spot in the rotation. With Justin Verlander's lat injury popping up over the weekend, the Astros are looking for two starters, so James appears to be ticketed for the rotation come Opening Day.
James allowed one hit and struck out two over three scoreless innings in Thursday's spring game against the Red Sox. James faced the minimum of nine batters thanks to a caught stealing, and he remains unscored upon in Grapefruit League action in 2020. He has not walked a batter in five spring innings, a glaring improvement on the 5.1 BB/9 he posted in the majors last season. "I was just trying to be in the zone with my heater early and get strike one and try to induce soft contact," James told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. "I don't want to be a guy that comes in and tries to let it eat for however many innings. I want to be able to pitch and go deep into games." James is competing for the No. 5 starter job and thus far, it looks like he'll get a chance to get stretched out this spring.
James retired all six batters he faced and struck out three over two innings in Friday's game against the Marlins. James, who piggy-backed on starter Zack Greinke, was impressive in his spring debut. The Astros are considering James among three pitchers for their final rotation spot, so don't be concerned that he came on in relief, as James is still in the mix for the No. 5 starter. The hard-throwing right-hander touched 97 mph and threw 20 of his 25 pitches for strikes. An important goal is to be in the zone more, and James was able to execute that over his two innings. The challenge is to build off Friday's outing as his pitch count rises and to maintain his delivery over five or six innings.
Astros pitching coach Brent Strom said Tuesday that James is one of three legitimate candidates for the No. 5 starter spot, along with Austin Pruitt and Framber Valdez, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reports. All but one of James' 49 appearances with Houston last season came out of the bullpen, and it looked like the ship might have sailed on him as a starter entering his age-27 season. However, the organization "completely revamped" James' delivery in the offseason, per Rome, and the Astros hope those changes lead to improved command. The right-hander has an electric arm and has flashed a big strikeout punch; he easily has the highest upside among the candidates Strom named.
James threw a bullpen session Friday from a full windup, indicating the Astros plan to stretch him out as a starter this spring, Brian McTaggart of MLB.com reports. James entered spring training last year as a candidate to start, but a right quadriceps injury put the kibosh on those plans. He eventually won a job as a reliever, a role in which he often pitched from the stretch. "Right now, I'm not feeling too comfortable out of the windup because I've been primarily in the stretch, especially being a reliever all year last year, so just some stuff to work out of the windup to get comfortable," he said. The right-hander's high-velocity fastball was in full effect in 2019, when he posted 14.7 K/9, whiffing batters at a healthy 37.6 percent clip, including a 16.2 swinging-strike percentage. Trimming his walk rate (5.1 BB/9) will be one order for business, as they became problematic due to an elevated home run rate (1.5 HR/9).
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