It's closing time for Lima time
added 4/27/2001 by Todd Brody
With Kent Bottenfield waiting in the wings in the Houston bullpen and Tony McKnight putting up stellar numbers in New Orleans (ERA 2.28, 25 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 19 K, .228 Avg. against), it appears Jose Lima's days in Houston are numbered. Four starts into the season (but based on last year's dismal performance), and tonight's game against the Marlins appears to be make or break for Lima.
The problem with using tonight's game as a benchmark for Lima is that the Marlins are one of the worst hitting teams in the league -- batting a mere .249 as a team. Lima could pitch well tonight and suck hard in his next five starts. Indeed, Lima pitched a great game on April 10 at Miller Field, and followed up that game with two really ugly performances against the Brewers and Cardinals. I would suggest that Lima's success against a bad hitting team may even hurt him in the long run because if he gets away with some bad pitches tonight, he may convince himself that his stuff really is that good and that he can pitch his junk against good hitting teams.
I think that Lima, at best, will be an inconsistent pitcher. At worst, Lima will be a loss every five games. Either way, the Astros can't afford to have Lima in the rotation. It seems to me that the best move for the Astros right now is to trade Lima (and his salary) for whatever they can get in return. You can't simply put him on waivers because the Astros still would be responsible for his salary. No, the Astros must find someone to take him. Consequently, I hope that Lima pitches really well tonight. Not just because the Astros really need the win. But because the Astros need to trade Lima and the only way that they are going to get any value in return is if Lima puts up a good performance or two. And tonight, against a weak-hitting Marlins team, would be a nice place to start.
In my not-so-humble-opinion, I think that the Astros need to move Bottenfield and McKnight into the rotation; trade Lima; waive Wayne Franklin; and move Octavio Dotel to the bullpen. Moving Dotel to the bullpen would help pick up the bullpen that is really suffering after Doug Brocail's season-ending -- Doug we hardly knew you. And Dotel seems more suited for the bullpen than as a starter anyway. McKnight was the Astros' best pitcher at the end of last season and, personally, I was surprised when he was sent back down to New Orleans to start this season. Now is the time to make amends and bring him back up. Yes, the season has a long way to go. But the Astros can't let the pitching problems fester. And they can't let themselves fall behind in the standings by too much. They need to make proactive moves.
As for Lima, I feel sorry for the man. There are few players in baseball who are as gracious as he is. Lima signs autographs for two hours before each game -- and not just at home, but on the road as well. Last week, at Enron, Lima gave away around a hundred plastic Astros baseballs to the fans and the ground crew told me that he does that before every game. He is a funny person. He is a likeable person. And most important, he loves playing in Houston. Coming off a twenty-win season, Lima could have gotten a lot more from other teams than what he got from the Astros. But he likes the town and its people, and he wanted to stay here.
Lima is everything that a baseball player should be and I wish that more players would take their cue from Lima. The problem is that he just can't pitch right now and $6 million is a lot to spend for a community spokesperson.