Touted prospect Forrest Whitley will start the season in the minors but has certainly showed why he could factor into the Houston Astros’ plans at some point.
Whitley allowed three runs over three innings in his final exhibition start as Houston beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 12-9 on Monday night. The outing capped a solid spring for the young right-hander.
Whitley said he was able to learn from Astros veterans in camp, with preparation being the biggest thing.
“I thought this spring was very beneficial, and it’s going to help me during the season,” he explained. “Sitting in (Justin) Verlander and (Gerrit) Cole’s back pockets as much as I possibly could, learning from them.”
Whitley, rated the top pitching prospect in baseball by MLB.com, allowed all three runs in a 31-pitch first inning that was capped by Francisco Cervelli’s two-run homer. But he settled down after that, retiring the side in order in the second and permitting two singles in the third.
The 21-year-old finished with two strikeouts and gave up six hits. He struck out 17 in 15 innings this spring.
“This outing was pretty weird,” Whitley said. “I haven’t had one of these in a while. I had everything except my fastball. It’s kind of hard to pitch without the fastball. I had a hard time locating that pitch. Pitching off that was a real struggle, but I found a way to bounce back a little bit. That was encouraging.”
Whitley, a 2016 first-round draft pick, will start the season at Triple-A Round Rock.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “Going to the affiliate here shortly and try to pitch as well as I can to get back up here.”
Houston manager AJ Hinch said the spring was a good learning time for Whitley, and he’s got a bright future.
“It’s going to take an adjustment or two and attention to a couple details to be ready to pitch in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “When we call him up at some point, we are going to need him to be good.”
Pirates outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall exited after being hit in the right hand by Framber Valdez’s pitch in the sixth.
Pittsburgh’s three-run first started with Adam Frazier scoring on Starling Marte’s double before Cervelli’s home run. The Pirates added a five-run sixth on RBI singles by Melky Cabrera and Corey Dickerson sandwiched around a two-run double by Frazier and Marte’s sacrifice fly.
Houston scored seven in the third. George Springer and Alex Bregman had RBI groundouts before Michael Brantley’s two-run single and Tyler White’s three-run homer. Nick Tanielu added a three-run homer in the sixth. Garrett Stubbs and Myles Straw hit consecutive solo home runs in the seventh.
Houston right-hander Josh James gave up one run and three hits in the eighth. James, slowed early by a strained right quadriceps, allowed only that one run in four spring outings.
Pirates: RHP Brandon Maurer starts the exhibition finale Tuesday against the Astros.
Astros: RHP J.B. Bukauskas starts Tuesday.