Injury Bug Forces Youth Movement

added 8/4/2009 by Bob Hulsey

I love ironic coincidences. Vin Scully loves to tell the true story of when Hall-of-Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry came up to the majors in the early Sixties. One day, a reporter stood next to Manager Alvin Dark while Perry was taking batting practice and commented that the young hurler had some pop in his bat.

Dark scoffed, "There'll be a man on the moon before that guy hits a home run."

After seven seasons, Perry hit his first big league homer on July 20th, 1969, right after Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface.

Speaking of slugging pitchers, I enjoy noting that the only home run in Joe Niekro's 22-year career came in 1976 off his older brother Phil. It was the difference in a 4-3 victory.

So, it is worth noting that David Norris' first big league start came Sunday in St. Louis. When David was three, he and his family went out to dinner one night and all the men ordered Budweiser to drink ("Bud" for short). Young David demanded a Bud also. His mother rightfully refused, but a nickname was born.

"Bud" Norris tossed five no-hit innings at where? Busch Stadium, named after who? August Busch who made his fortune selling what? Budweiser! Norris went on to finish seven innings of two-hit shutout ball and collect his first win. It's a good thing his family wasn't fans of Heineken or Shiner.

Norris got his start because the old Astros had been afflicted with a rash of injuries. LaTroy Hawkins had been sent to the disabled list. Roy Oswalt hurt his lower back and it is still iffy whether he will pitch or join Hawkins on the shelf. Wandy Rodriguez strained a hamstring running out a grounder. Toss in the release of Russ Ortiz and General Manager Ed Wade had little choice but to dip into the minors for help.

Sammy Gervacio was also called up from Round Rock and Felipe Paulino was brought up for the second time this season. As of this writing, Gervacio has yet to make an appearance.

Suddenly, the Houston pitching staff looks much younger than when the season began. There's Norris (age 24) and Paulino (25) in the rotation with Wesley Wright (24), Alberto Arias (26) and Gervacio (24) in the bullpen. Before the season is over, you may also see Yorman Bazardo (25) and Polin Trinidad (24) brought up to the big club.

In fact, Bazardo might have already received his promotion except that he is out of options and there is a risk, if he is sent back to AAA before September 1st, that he might be claimed by another team. Norris and Bazardo have been leading the Pacific Coast League in earned run average this season.

Despite the injuries and the losses the Astros have suffered, the youth movement it has forced could wind up as a silver lining. Wade seemed reluctant to call up his farmhands even as some fans insisted he should. There is apt to be several changes to next year's staff and this gives the organization a chance to find out who's ready for the next step up. Norris' early success may not only serve as a preview of coming attractions, he might actually be the guy who saves their season if he pitches as well as he did Sunday while Oswalt and Rodriguez return to health.

To have any chance at coming back in the pennant races, Houston needs three starting pitchers capable of shutting down the opposition. Oswalt and Rodriguez were rounding into form as the first two of that trio and Bud Norris might be the third. Of course, that looks like a long shot right now and it is a lot to put on the shoulders of a guy who just finished his first start in the majors, but Oswalt himself did such a feat in 2001 to propel the Astros to the playoffs.

Wouldn't it be something if history repeated itself and Houston fans could toast a few more cold ones at Busch in honor of their namesake?