Rays lefthander James Houser’s fastball velocity is down this season, but one of those fastballs has him facing a three-game suspension.
Houser, 23, has been suspended for three games for hitting Huntsville right fielder Matt LaPorta with a pitch on May 2. Given that Houser is a starting pitcher, a three-game suspension won’t cause him to miss any starts for Double-A Montgomery.
Houser hit LaPorta with the second pitch of the second inning on Friday, then was promptly ejected by umpire Nick Nolde. Houser told the Montgomery Adviser that he did not intend to hit LaPorta, and LaPorta felt the same way.
"For him especially, you don’t want to make a mistake over the plate, because he’ll hurt you," Houser said. "When the catcher calls for a fastball in, I wanted to make sure it was in and not middle."
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Part of that includes that Houser and LaPorta are former summer teammates and high school rivals who are friends. The two even ate dinner together Thursday night at Shogun’s steakhouse.
"I just think he was trying to come inside and it happened," LaPorta said. "The umpires did what they felt they had to do. That’s up to the umpires."
I saw Houser pitch at Carolina (Marlins) on April 11, when Houser allowed one hit in five scoreless innings, but his fastball velocity was down significantly from last year. Houser’s fastball sat in the high-80s and touched 91 mph last year, but his fastball sat consistently at 83-85 mph in that start against the Mudcats, never touching higher than 85. Houser got by on the quality of his mid-70s changeup, a 55 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale that had several Carolina hitters fooled. He also mixed in a 69-70 mph curve, but the drop in his fastball velocity was the most alarming.
The suspension for Houser, who ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the Rays system coming into the season, is the second of his minor league career since the Rays made him a second-round pick in 2003. Houser was suspended 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines in 2007 and he served 25 games of his sentence last season. However, Houser never served the rest of his suspension because the Rays placed him on the 40-man roster, making Houser officially a major leaguer and thus subject to the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement, meaning Houser was no longer suspended.
Through six games with the Biscuits this season, Houser’s ERA is a tidy 1.26 with 21 strikeouts and six walks in 28 2/3 innings.