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Execution Will Be Key For J.B. Bukauskas

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A season that started with such high hopes for righthander J.B. Bukauskas found a frustrating midway point at the Futures Game. The Astros’ No. 5 prospect openly acknowledged he did not deserve the invitation.

Bukauskas arrived at Cleveland with a 6.33 ERA at Double-A Corpus Christi. Prior to the season, Houston had hoped that the 22-year-old could advance to Triple-A and afford major league depth.

Prolonged problems with fastball command, timing in his delivery and varying his arsenal against familiar opponents has made both scenarios far fetched. Through 19 game (13 starts), Bukauskas had walked 5.4 per nine innings while running up a 5.22 ERA through 81 innings.

"The thing is, my stuff feels great,” Bukauskas said. "Physically, I feel great. My stuff feels really good. I’m just not executing at a high enough rate right now to be successful. Hopefully when I can get back to that, hopefully you’ll see some better numbers and get back to where I want to be.”

Some of Bukauskas’ troubles commanding his fastball stem from inexperience elevating his four-seamer, which is a concept he picked up just this spring. In the minors, though, he had found that not elevating high enough can be disastrous.

Without his fastball command, Bukauskas' wicked slider and sneaky changeup are muted. Often, he’s in no advantage count to throw them. He’s seeing hitters take both pitches early in counts, too, because they know he has inconsistent fastball command.

"This entire year has been a learning process,” said Bukauskas, who was drafted 15th overall out of North Carolina in 2017. "From the beginning of spring training until now, it’s been crazy. It’s been up and down, but from everything I’ve heard and everybody I’ve talked to, they just said that’s a part of the thing. Learning how to deal with failure and adjust from it.”

Bukauskas looked sharper in three post-Futures Game starts, recording a 1.06 ERA with 22 strikeouts and seven walks in 17 innings. His immediate improvement is vital, especially given the dire state of Houston's rotation depth.

Corbin Martin made five big league starts before having Tommy John surgery, while  No. 1 prospect Forrest Whitley did not pitch for two months from May to July, forced into a season reset after eight horrible appearances at Triple-A, during which he pitched with right shoulder fatigue.

SPACE SHOTS

— Whitley returned to full-season ball on July 24 at high Class A Fayetteville after two short outings in the Gulf Coast League. He threw 61 pitches over 3.1 innings, striking out two and walking one while allowing two runs.

Cionel Perez is rehabbing a minor forearm injury in West Palm Beach, Fla. Luhnow expected the lefthander back on the mound before the beginning of August.

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