Just when you thought the situation was muddled...

added 5/3/2001 by Darrell Pittman

Just when I thought there was going to be some resolution to the questions orbiting the Astros' starting pitching situation, Jose Lima turned in a performance that, while not exactly stellar, might be good enough for him to hold onto his starting job in the eyes of pitcher-oriented manager Larry Dierker.

If you read my previous "At the Game" column, you know I was in favor or sending Lima to the bullpen (perhaps even to New Orleans) to work out his problems.

I still am.

In 5-2/3 innings of work, Lima gave up four runs on nine hits, including dingers to Edgardo Alfonzo in the first and Jay Payton in the fifth. When Lima was ejected from the game in the sixth, after he plunked Payton and the latter charged the mound (Payton was ejected too), the Astros were behind only 4-0. Not nearly the meltdown that Lima experienced on his last outing on Friday night against Florida: the main difference this time was that the Astros bats came alive to tie the game 5-5 in the eighth inning (on solo homers by Craig Biggio, Moises Alou, and Darryle Ward), then to go ahead in the tenth (solo homers by Lance Berkman, and Alou again).

Lima did get some tough groundouts (including two double-plays), flyouts, and strikeouts, in addition to serving up the two yardballs, a double, and several singles. Let's give credit where it is due: Lima turned in a gutsy performance tonight, compared to what he has been doing of late. That's not even considering the pressure he's been under, and the head-case he is. This time, he kept the good guys close enough to win.

Because of the so-so performance, the question in my mind now is still whether Dierker should demote him, and if so, to where? The Houston bullpen, or New Orleans?

To me, the answer is yes, and I think it should be New Orleans.

My thinking in this is not to humiliate or punish Lima, but to put him in a situation where he has the best chance to succeed, to re-learn his craft, and to rebuild his confidence, hopefully away from the glare of the media. Lima is a starting pitcher, and he would get the most starts at New Orleans.

In Lima's place, I would put Kent Bottenfield back in the starting rotation, then bring up Tony McKnight to fill in the hole in the bullpen.

Further, I would send Wayne Franklin back to the farm (or, perhaps, just release him) and bring up Roy Oswalt in his place.

Send this story to a friend