What Phillies can expect from Game 4 opponent Cristian Javier


The Astros could have used Monday's rainout to move Justin Verlander up to Game 4 of the World Series but are choosing to stay on rotation.

They'll start Lance McCullers Jr. against the Phillies Tuesday night in Game 3, Cristian Javier Wednesday in Game 4 and Verlander in Game 5 Thursday.

Moving Verlander up to Game 4 would have still kept him on normal rest while opening the possibility of using him in Game 7 on three days' rest. But Dusty Baker confirmed after the postponement Monday that it will still be Javier in Game 4 Wednesday.

Here is how the pitching matchups line up the rest of the series, with the caveat that things could change if a team finds itself down 3-1:

Game 3 Tuesday: Ranger Suarez vs. Lance McCullers Jr.

Game 4 Wednesday: Aaron Nola vs. Cristian Javier

Game 5 Thursday: Noah Syndergaard/Kyle Gibson vs. Justin Verlander

Game 6 Saturday: Zack Wheeler vs. Framber Valdez (if necessary)

Game 7 Sunday: Ranger Suarez vs. Lance McCullers Jr. (if necessary)

The Phillies have never faced the 25-year-old Javier, who has pitched exceptionally well in 44 starts the last three seasons, going 19-11 with a 3.00 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 279 strikeouts in 234⅓ innings.

Javier throws almost exclusively fastballs and sliders, missing bats at a Top 10 rate since the start of 2021. He's struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings the last two years, fourth in the majors behind Carlos Rodon, Blake Snell and Gerrit Cole.

The only two Phillies hitters who have ever seen Javier are Kyle Schwarber (0 for 2, K) and Brandon Marsh (4 for 7, double).

Javier figures to be tough, particularly since it will be the first live look for many hitters. He appeared in relief once in the ALDS and started in the ALCS, beating the Yankees with 5⅓ one-hit, scoreless innings. Those are his only two appearances since October 2.

"The guy's evolved," Baker said. "He didn't spend much time in the minor leagues. He's evolved as far as throwing strikes better. His breaking ball is better than it was last year or even the year before that. He's a very confident young man."

While the rainout didn't alter Houston's rotation, it did allow the Phillies to move Suarez up to Game 3 and Nola up to Game 4, giving them a better chance in both games. Had the series been played as scheduled, it would have been Syndergaard in Game 3 and Suarez in Game 4. Simply put, you want your better arms going earlier, even if the Astros hit Nola in Game 1. The third game of a tied best-of-seven series is obviously a major swing game, with the winning team going on to 68 of 98 times (69 percent).

Tonight's opponent, McCullers, pitched six shutout innings against the Mariners in the ALDS and allowed four runs (three earned) to the Yankees in five innings in the ALCS.

The Phillies faced him back on October 3 and scored one run over six innings on a first-pitch, leadoff homer from Schwarber. That was the night Nola beat the Astros and the Phils clinched a playoff spot.

McCullers has elite-level secondary pitches. Since the start of last season, his opponents have hit .159 against the curveball, .174 on the slider and .190 on the changeup with eight home runs in exactly 600 at-bats. 

Over that same timeframe, he's allowed a .302 batting average with a .495 slugging percentage on at-bats ending in a fastball. That's the pitch you want from McCullers. 

"We know he's going to throw a lot of sliders, so it's common sense," manager Rob Thomsons said pregame. "Right-handers, you've got to get 'em close to you and see him, get him up in the zone, and lefties, you've got to see the ball out away from him because the ball's going to be coming back into them.

"So I think that's all it is. I think you've got to turn the field around, see the ball up and get good pitches to hit."

McCullers is prone to losing the strike zone. He led the majors last season with 76 walks and had an identical rate in a smaller sample this season of 4.2 walks per nine innings.

The Phillies didn't hit Valdez in Game 2 but they did make him work early. He had thrown 54 pitches with two outs in the third inning before cruising until the seventh. They also made Verlander work hard in Game 1 even before he blew the lead. Patience won't hurt in Game 3, particularly on first pitches with spin.

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