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Ronel Blanco To Begin Season In Astros’ Rotation

Ronel Blanco To Begin Season In Astros' Rotation

Right-hander Ronel Blanco will start the 2024 season in the Astros’ rotation, manager Joe Espada announced to the team’s beat writers last night (X link via Matt Kawahara of the Houston Chronicle). Blanco got the news after celebrating the birth of his daughter Tuesday and going on to fan 10 hitters in his final start of spring training — not a bad way to close out camp.

The final couple spots in Houston’s rotation have been up in the air throughout spring training due to injuries up and down the staff. The ’Stros entered camp knowing that Luis Garcia Jr. (Tommy John surgery) and Lance McCullers Jr. (flexor surgery) would start the year on the shelf. But since camp began, they’ve seen Justin Verlander slowed by shoulder discomfort, Jose Urquidy sustain a forearm strain and righty Shawn Dubin stalled by shoulder troubles of his own. That trio will join McCullers and Garcia on the injured list to begin the season. Right-hander J.P. France has also battled through shoulder problems, but he’s recovered to the point where he’ll now join Blanco in the rotation to begin the year.

Blanco, 30, didn’t even make his major league debut until his age-28 season in 2022 and only tossed 6 1/3 frames that year. He logged 52 innings of 4.50 ERA ball with the Astros in 2023, starting seven games and making another 10 relief appearances. Command woes (12.4% walk rate) and extreme susceptibility to home runs (2.08 HR/9) worked against Blanco in 2023, but neither has been an issue through his small sample of spring innings. Blanco was unscored upon in 15 2/3 frames during Cactus League play, striking out 32.7% of his opponents against a tidy 7.3% walk rate.

It’s a small sample that’s come against opposition that hasn’t entirely consisted of MLB hitters, but it’s nevertheless an encouraging trend. Blanco walked 12.6% of his opponents even in Triple-A last season, so any strides in that department are most welcome. He’ll need to demonstrate that his improved command is sustainable over a larger sample against more advanced competition, but there’s little denying that he’s earned this opportunity — outperforming alternative rotation options like swingman Brandon Bielak or non-roster prospect Spencer Arrighetti.

The Astros don’t seem to be anticipating a lengthy absence for Verlander, and if he indeed is able to return before long, that’ll create an interesting decision on whether Blanco or France retains his rotation spot. France had the…

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