Culture / Sporting Life

Rookie Jeremy Pena Gets H-E-B Commercial Blessed, While Cristian Javier Continues to Prove He Needs to Start For the Astros

Houston's Mini Youth Movement Even Provides Thrills in a Lost Night

BY // 05.21.22

Jeremy Pena just keeps doing things quickly, grabbing moments faster than JJ Reddick starts an NBA feud these days. Anyone wondering just how much of a fan favorite the Houston Astros rookie shortstop already is, can stop wondering. Pena’s already filmed an H-E-B commercial. H-E-B wanted Pena along with established Astros stalwarts Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Lance McCullers Jr. for its latest shoot.

That’s clout. There’s Pena and McCullers wearing flashy red shirts, and holding a rose in their teeth at one point, as they mistake what Bregman means by salsa night in the most memorable of the new commercials, which were teased by H-E-B on Friday.

In another bit, Pena keeps slapping Bregman’s hand away as the now veteran third baseman tries to take one of his H-E-B chips. Talk about rookie nerve.

Then again, youth is being served in many ways on these 2022 Astros. Even on a night when 24-year-old wonder slugger Yordan Alvarez is given the game off, ending the evening with his batting gloves in his hands as Martin Perez of all pitchers goes complete game old school on Dusty Baker’s team. Alvarez does not get to pinch hit after Yuli Gurriel flies out with two Astros on.

The Astros lose this Friday night Apple TV special 3-0 with the journeyman Perez throwing 108 pitches to weave together nine shutout innings. And lower his season ERA to 1.64. It’s a result that is more uplifting to a 18-20 Texas Rangers team desperate to show that it can finally compete with Houston again than deflating to these now 25-15 Astros.

For even in the loss, sometime sixth starter/reliever Cristian Javier puts up six innings of near dominance for Baker’s team. Javier strikes out nine and certainly strengthens the now almost indisputable case that he needs to stay in this Astros’ rotation.

“Every time he go out there, he feel confident in what he can do,” Astros catcher Martin Maldonado says when I ask how he’s seen Javier’s mental game improve this season. “That’s why ever since he came up and been here, he’s been one of our main guys through the years.”

Still only 25, Javier is in his third season with the Astros. He’s only started 24 games while making 33 relief appearances. But he sure looks like a starter on this night.

“He threw the ball well,” Baker says of Javier. “Except for the home run. And usually a solo home run doesn’t beat this team.”

That’s all the Rangers get against the Astros’ young starter.

Jeremy Pena Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park
Cristian Javier continues to make the case for being an Astros starter. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Cristian Javier just keeps racking up strikeouts like an old school video game devotee racks up points on Space Invaders, one after the other after the other. He fans six Rangers in the first three innings of this game. His fastball definitely plays as a starter.

The whole time Javier goes about his work, his camouflage Astros hat is slightly askew, giving him something of rebel’s look. Cristian Javier does not look like he should be an opposing presence on the mound. His height is listed as 6 foot 1, though in reality he probably stands much closer to 5 foot 10. Roger Clemens, he’s not.

But Javier still brings something of an attitude to his work. After Kole Calhoun homers off the left center field facade to break a 0-0 tie in the fourth inning, Javier quickly gets back to adding strikeout number seven.

Javier works fast, tries hard and seems to feel every out. When Kyle Tucker makes a sideways leaping catch in the fifth inning to rob the Rangers of a hit, extending his glove out and snagging the ball on the warning track on the run, Javier claps for his outfielder from the mound. Javier just keeps making an impression.

“I thought Cristian threw the ball exceptionally well,” Bregman says. “He’s been throwing the ball great for us this year. We just didn’t get enough runs for him tonight.”

On many teams in Major League Baseball in these pitching challenged times, Cristian Javier already would be established as a full-time starter. He’s making it harder and harder for the Astros to not give him that nod, too. Thirty nine strikeouts in 31 and 1/3 innings of work can do that.

No matter how remarkable Jake Odorizzi’s comeback from the leg injury that had been writhering on the field in Fenway Park is, Javier deserves more starts after this one.

“I feel like he did a pretty good job, just keeping us in a one run game,” Maldonado says. “I think he did his job. With the big boys out there, that’s all you can ask from a starter.”

Jeremy Pena Finds H-E-B Power

Jeremy Pena is giving the Astros all they could ask for — and more — from a first-year starter taking over the position where Carlos Correa turned himself into one of the Astros’ all-time favorites. Now, he’s already being H-E-B commercial blessed.

That’s no minor win for the young Astros either. Somehow, making Jeremy Pena one of the faces of a beloved Houston brand already seems like a safe, wise choice. In one of the new commercials, which aired during the Warriors-Mavericks playoff game on Friday night, Jose Altuve tosses his car keys to Pena, treating him like a rookie. It’s a funny little bit. Pena comes across as something of a natural in the new commercials too.

Should anyone really be surprised by that?

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