Oberholtzer makes solid opening statement for starter spot

Left-hander throws two innings, pounds strike zone against Cardinals

Oberholtzer makes solid opening statement for starter spot

JUPITER, Fla. -- Unlike fellow pitchers Scott Feldman, Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel, Astros left-hander Brett Oberholtzer is going to have to pitch well this spring to keep his spot in the rotation. He's off to a good start, though.

Oberholtzer looked sharp in his Grapefruit League debut on Friday afternoon at Roger Dean Stadium, holding the Cardinals to four hits and no earned runs in two innings in a 5-2 loss. It wasn't flashy, but he threw strikes and kept the ball down.

"I came in a little more prepared this year," he said. "I would say the last couple of springs, I got off to a little rough start. It's Spring Training, but I wanted to come in prepared. Today, I felt good for my first outing."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said pounding the strike zone and working at a good tempo are the keys for Oberholtzer.

"He needs to try to keep hitters swinging the bat, and that begins with strike one," he said. "To have him pound the strike zone early in the game and get the offense on the other side wanting to swing the bat and playing to our defense, that's part of his game."

Oberholtzer, 25, went 5-13 with a 4.39 ERA in 24 starts in four different stints with the Astros last year. He pitched pretty well at the end of the season, though. Houston won nine of his last 17 starts, with Oberholtzer going 5-7 with a 3.92 ERA in that span.

"I'm still young," he said. "I think the learning experience was a big part of how to pitch guys who've been around in the big leagues for a while. It's not easy coming up and having success right away. I think the learning curve for me to be prepared and learn as much as I can at that level helped. It's a game of adjustments. Small adjustments here and there go a long way."

One of the adjustments Oberholtzer made this offseason was a commitment to throw a cutter, which he began throwing with the Braves in Class A before scrapping it in Double-A and Triple-A when he lost his feel for his other pitches.

"I just went back to what I do best," he said. "I'm 25 and I have more experience. I'm trying to fine-tune the craft and learn more."

Whether Oberholtzer has a spot in the rotation at this point doesn't make a difference to him. He's not on social media and doesn't surf the Web much, so he probably hasn't seen any depth charts.

"I just try to do what I can to prepare the best I can, and whatever happens, happens," he said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.