Last Friday in his major-league debut, Houston Astros pitcher Jarred Cosart took a no-hitter into the seventh inning at Tampa Bay.
That is part of the future.
The present remains a train wreck.
Houston owns the worst record in the majors and is careening toward its third straight 100-loss season.
“If it affects you, then you need to look in the mirror and figure out what you’re made of as a man,” Bo Porter, 41, the youngest manager in the big leagues, told reporters.
Houston, in its first year in the American League, is on pace to finish 57-105 — the same neighborhood as 2012’s 55-107 and 2011’s 56-106 records.
Hard to imagine, but the Astros have actually dropped off from last year in most statistical categories.
Fewer people are showing up at Minute Maid Park. The average home attendance is down 8 percent to 18,271, ranking ahead of only the two Florida franchises.
Yet there are reasons for long-term optimism, if you’re talking 2015 or 2016.
Catcher Jason Castro, a 2008 No. 1 draft choice presumed to be a bust, is enjoying a breakout season. The club’s one designated All-Star is batting .270 with 12 home runs, 31 RBIs and 25 doubles, and the Stanford ex has picked up defensively.
“I love what he brings to the table for our young staff,” Porter said. “He does a great job understanding our pitchers and how they can use their repertoire and pitch selection to attack hitters.”
Second baseman Jose Altuve, 23, who played in the All-Star game last year, is hitting .280 with 21 stolen bases. Last week he was signed to a $12.5 million, four-year extension that could grow to six years and $25 million.
Third baseman Matt Dominguez, a 2007 first-round pick of Miami, might be a worthy reclamation project, with 11 homers and 45 RBIs.
Cosart, a 23-year-old Houston Clear Creek product, represents a vastly improved farm system. The franchise’s No. 4 prospect, according to MLB.com, is 7-4 with a 3.29 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 93 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City.
Jordan Lyles, a 2008 first-rounder, has the upside of a No. 3 starter. He is 4-3 with a 4.02 ERA in Houston.
Bud Norris, a former Triple-A All-Star in Round Rock, is a solid starter who also could be part of the solution, although the 28-year-old is being dangled before the trade deadline for premium prospects.
Last month, the Astros made Stanford’s Mark Appel the No. 1 pick of the draft, and they see the power right-hander as their future ace.
Houston’s farm system is ranked No. 9 by Baseball America, and offensive help should start arriving later this summer with slugging first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder George Springer already in Triple-A.
Further down the chain are highly regarded shortstop Carlos Correa — the No. 1 overall choice in the 2012 draft — and swift second baseman Delino DeShields Jr.
Of course, prospects are a roll of the dice, and major holes remain up and down this roster, especially in the pitching staff and the outfield.
Left fielder Chris Carter, 26, aims to show he can stick. Carter, who crunched 182 minor-league home runs but never got a full chance in Oakland, has a club-leading 18 homers and 47 RBIs. But he has a .229 average and an MLB-leading 123 strikeouts in 288 at bats.
“I’ve heard the critics,” he told reporters. “It’s not like I’m up there just trying to hit homers and not caring about average. I still care about average, and I’ll be out to prove it.”
Comparing the 2012 Astros to this year’s version at the All-Star break. Somehow, they’ve gotten even worse. (Note: MLB rankings in parentheses.)
4.0 (25th);Runs;3.7 (28th)
.245 (24th);Batting;.235 (29th)
.381 (24th);Slugging;.374 (29th)
4.8 (28th);Runs allowed;5.3 (30)
4.47 (27th);ERA;4.84 (30)
.982 (21st);Fielding;.980 (30th)
The Astros are unlikely to be as active in the trade market as they were the past two years simply because they have few valuable veteran commodities left to deal. But here are three players to watch:
P Bud Norris: The 28-year-old, who’s 6-8 with a 3.63 ERA, is one of the most reliable starting pitchers being shopped openly. But the asking price is steep: The Astros are said to want two premium prospects. Norris can’t be a free agent until 2016, and that’s appealing to teams like Arizona, Cleveland and Kansas City, along with large-market clubs.
P Jose Veras: The 32-year-old first-time closer has turned around his season, and now looks appealing to a wide range of teams needing late-inning relief. He has 18 saves, a 3.20 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 39 innings. Veras is the most likely Astro to be traded.
P Eric Bedard: Don’t expect much in return, but it makes sense to move the 34-year-old lefty for a B-level prospect. Bedard has a 4.61 ERA over 17 starts and at least is healthy, a big thing for him.