Conjuring images of other hulking Astros hurlers like J.R. Richard, the 6'7" Elarton sped through the Houston minor league system without enduring a single losing record before being promoted to the bigs in 1998. Though used primarily as a starter in the minors, Elarton was relied on from the bullpen in the majors, forming an excellent one-two tandem with closer Billy Wagner. Though he did notch two starts in place of Mike Hampton in '98, most of the big righty's season, during which he went 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA, was spent in relief.
The following season, Elarton got a chance to ply his wares from the rotation when Sean Bergman succumbed to muscle tightness in early July. With a 5-2 record and 2.75 ERA from the 'pen, Elarton turned in a fine performance as a starter, going 4-3 with a 3.83 ERA for the rest of the season in Bergman's place. When the playoffs rolled around, he went back to the bullpen to give the team more depth and versatility in relief.
With the loss of Hampton to free agency in the offseason, Elarton permanently joined the rotation in 2000, and responded with a team-leading 17-7 mark. Though the Astros bumbled through the year to a 72-90 record, Elarton was not only the sole pitcher on the team with double digit wins, but also the only starter on the team with more than five decisions that posted a winning record. However, pitching in the hitter-friendly Enron Field severely hampered his ERA, and the new Astros' ace finished the season with a startling 4.81 mark.
That high earned run average foreshadowed Elarton's fall from grace in 2001 as the pitcher started off poorly and never recovered. Sporting a 4-8 record with a 7.14 ERA when he was mercifully placed on the disabled list in late July with tendinitis in his right bicep, Elarton became an expendable commodity by the playoff-contending Astros. On the day of the trading deadline Houston dealt the righty to the Colorado Rockies for coveted starter Pedro Astacio. (AG)
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