Astros move on after dustup between Harrell, Lyles
Updated 6:05 pm, Sunday, July 14, 2013
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A challenging eight-game, 10-day road trip heading into the All-Star break continued to depress the Astros' record.
It also saw the struggling club's chemistry tested more than at any point this season.
With some veterans anxiously eyeing the July 31 trade deadline and everything from the state of the starting rotation to in-game decisions and roster moves questioned by players, a heated clubhouse confrontation between promising 22-year-old righthander Jordan Lyles and former No. 2 starter Lucas Harrell highlighted the challenges the rebuilding Astros face during the second half of the season.
The dispute occurred Tuesday in St. Louis. The Astros fell 9-5 to the Cardinals that night. Harrell was demoted to the bullpen two days prior, in a move partly made last Sunday to deliver a wake-up message to the frustrated 28-year-old righthander. The Astros didn't play the next day.
"It just was a heated argument. That's about all it was. We were just passionate about what we both thought about. ... It was just one of those things where we both thought we were right," Harrell said Sunday, prior to the Astros' 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bays at Tropicana Field.
Lyles' response was brief.
"It was teammates being teammates," he said.
First-year Astros manager Bo Porter acknowledged the clash but said Lyles and Harrell still must "go to battle together."
"At some point in a household there's going to be disputes. It happens. It's part of the game," Porter said. "It actually should never leave the clubhouse. You discuss it. You figure out your differences and you move on."
While in-season flare-ups between players aren't rare, the confrontation between Harrell and Lyles represents a divide between the Astros' recent past – filled with constant roster moves and 213 combined losses the last two seasons – and a 2013 season mostly devoted to player development. It also highlighted many players' awareness they likely won't be around when the club is expected to be competitive again and the tight spot Harrell – a spring training contender with Bud Norris for the No. 1 starter role – finds himself in as the non-waiver deadline approaches.
"You're around these people all the time, so it's like a family. You're going to have ups and downs," said Harrell, a fourth-year pitcher who had several previous team-related issues this season.
Legitimate clubhouse leadership and on-the-field execution continue to be problem areas for the Astros, whose mix-and-match roster – worth an MLB-low $21 million – regularly failed to cohere during the first half of the season.
Harrell's mindset also remains a concern. Following his move to the bullpen, the righty initially questioned the club's decision.
"It's one of those things where you've got a new regime in here," said Harrell, who's 5-10 with a 5.07 ERA and has allowed six hits, three runs and four walks in 4 2/3 relief innings. "They want their guys and it's coming later in the season; it's getting closer to September. So they're going to try their guys and see what happens."
As Porter did postgame Saturday following Harrell's 10th loss of the season, the manager continued to stand behind his former starter Sunday. Harrell remains a candidate for the Astros' open fifth starter spot and Porter hasn't given up on a pitcher who led the 2012 team in wins and ERA.
"A lot of times when you have a wake-up call, sometimes it actually sends the person in a direction in which they need to go," Porter said. "I feel like he is definitely making strides and he is headed in the direction in which we all believe he needs to go."