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Lyles’ debut most anticipated since Pence

Astros manager Brad Mills said it best Sunday when he said he told Jordan Lyles he could be with the club for two starts or 20 years. Whatever the future holds, it begins now. The Astros’ top prospect – only 20 years old – makes his long-anticipated Major League debut tonight at Wrigley Field for the Astros when they face the Cubs.

Barely three years removed from his high school graduation and being drafted 38th overall by the Astros (who gave him a $930,000 bonus), Lyles’ debut is the most anticipated in team history since perhaps Hunter Pence in 2007. Pence was the Astros’ top prospect when he made his Major League debut on April 28, 2007 at Minute Maid Park, going 1-for-3 in a 10-1 win over the Brewers. He went 2-for-4 the next night and has been in the lineup since.

Of course, Pence was 24 years old by the time the Astros finally called him. He had a terrific spring that season, but the Astros were committed to finding a way to keep former top prospect Chris Burke on the roster with Craig Biggio closing out his career with his final season at second base. Despite being the most difficult out in the Grapefruit League in 2007, Pence opened the season at Triple-A Round Rock, with Burke opening the year as the starting center fielder. It took less than a month for Pence to get called up, and later in the year he moved to right field, where he’s been entrenched since.

The Astros aren’t promising anything to Lyles more than two starts – tonight against the Cubs and Sunday in San Diego against the Padres. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez is expected to be healthy enough to return to the rotation by then, but if Lyles puts together two quality starts, the club is going to have a decision to make. They’re going to have to find a way to keep Lyles in the rotation, which could come at the expense of Rule 5 pick Aneury Rodriguez.

But first things first.

Lyles got off to a rough this year at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but has slowly gotten into a groove. He pitched six innings in his most recent start May 25. In his last three starts, he was 2-1 with three earned runs allowed in 20 2/3 innings. Like Pence did four years earlier, Lyles dazzled the Astros in Spring Training with his composure and competitiveness, but began the season in the Minors anyway.

For a Minor League organization that hasn’t had many prospects to get excited about in recent years, the Astros can’t help but be excited about Lyles. Whether this is the start of a terrific Major league career or something else remains to be seen. But there’s little doubt it’s time to see what Lyles can do.

Lyles on his way to Astros

The Astros announced Saturday afternoon they will place left-hander Wandy Rodriguez on the 15-day disabled list Monday with fluid in his left elbow joint and will purchase the contract of top prospect Jordan Lyles, a right-handed pitcher, from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Lyles, 20, the Astros’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year last year, will make his Major League debut on Tuesday when he gets the start for the Astros against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. He’s 3-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 10 starts this year for the RedHawks. Lyles is also scheduled to start June 5 in San Diego, manager Brad Mills said.

“He’s been pitching well,” Mills said. “His last outing [Wednesday] was six shutout innings and he only threw 77 pitches. He’s put some pretty good outings together. Everyone’s excited with the way he threw in Spring Training for us and we’re exited for him. This will be a good time to see him pitch.”

Rodriguez underwent an MRI on Saturday morning because of discomfort in his elbow. He was scheduled to start Saturday’s game against Arizona, but was scratched on Friday. Rodriguez is 3-3 in 10 starts this season with a 3.41 ERA, and is 3-1 in his last seven starts with a 2.16 ERA.

In Lyles’ last seven starts, he has been one of the top starting pitchers in Triple-A, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.00 ERA. In that span, he has allowed two runs or less in six starts and one run or less in four starts.

Lyles, the club’s 38th overall pick in 2008, dazzled the Astros in Spring Training, posting a 1.98 ERA in five appearances while competing for the fifth starter’s job – a spot that eventually went to Nelson Figueroa.

To make room for Lyles on the 40-man roster, catcher Jason Castro will be transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

 

 

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