What the Astros should do with Ronel Blanco once Justin Verlander returns

Apr 1, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Ronel Blanco (56) delivers a pitch
Apr 1, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Ronel Blanco (56) delivers a pitch / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Astros entered the 2024 season very short-handed on the starting pitching side. Houston has been known to be very well stocked when it comes to starting pitching, but injuries to Justin Verlander, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy certainly impacted that.

Those injuries forced Ronel Blanco, a 30-year-old who had just seven MLB starts under his belt and a 4.78 ERA. He was seen as just a short-term fix until Verlander, the team's unquestioned ace, returned from his injury early this season.

Verlander was hurt throughout Spring Training but is nearing a return to action with a rehab assignment looming. He's set to make a couple of starts in the minors before making his season debut for the Astros. Assuming those starts go without any sort of setback, Verlander could be back in just a couple of weeks. It seemed as if Verlander replacing Blanco in the rotation was a no-brainer, but after Blanco threw a no-hitter is that still the case?

One start, as great as it was, should not impact what the Astros do with Ronel Blanco

Blanco throwing the no-hitter was truly awesome to see. This is a player who battled through a lot of adversity throughout his career but he was able to not only start Monday's game but throw a no-hitter.

It's a moment to remember for Blanco and the Astros, but one start does not change who he has always been. He is a solid depth arm to have, and he proved that in a spot start, he can come through. However, his overall body of work before that outing suggests that he's nothing more than a Quadruple-A guy, meaning he's somewhere between the best in the minors and worst in the majors.

Blanco absolutely should start games until Verlander comes back, but once that happens, who exactly are you taking out? Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Hunter Brown aren't going anywhere. J.P. France after posting a 3.83 ERA in 24 appearances (23 starts) last season shouldn't either. It's Blanco who will likely lose his rotation spot.

As for what Houston should do with him, there are a couple of possibilities. The easiest one (and the one that will likely happen) is he's moved to the bullpen. Outside of the three-headed monster of Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, and Josh Hader, Houston is extremely short-handed in the 'pen. Adding an arm capable of recording outs like Blanco can help.

The other option could be to send Blanco back down to the minors to keep him stretched out. It wouldn't be fair after he threw a no-hitter, but baseball is a business at the end of the day. Doing this would ensure that the Astros have a capable arm ready to fill in as a starting pitcher and not skip a beat if any of their current starting pitchers were to go down with an injury.

Perhaps Blanco can pitch himself into more starts. He should have at least a couple of more starts ahead to continue to prove himself before Verlander comes back. If he throws another no-hitter or continues to throw the ball extremely well, maybe this conversation will need to be re-visited by the time Verlander makes his return. For now, one start shouldn't change what the plan already was, even if that one start was as glorious as Blanco's was.