Brad Hand (1-2, 4.86) v. Dallas Keuchel (9-6, 3.29)
The Astros, by virtue of missing three Centre Fielders (two of whom are amongst their best players offensively) have received sterling fill-in work from a mis-cast Kiké Hernandez in CF recently. Hernandez, as I mentioned a couple of game recaps ago, started one game in CF at AA, and one at AAA. Well, today it ended up biting the Astros as Hernandez made a critical error on a hard-hit line-drive that knuckled during its flight with one out in the seventh. Two batters later, the score was 2-0 Marlins, and that is how it stayed because the Astros were shut down by a guy with a career 3-12 record.
Also of note is how long the Astros bottom-of-the-order looks against lefties, with Grossman, Hoes and Petit (called up in place of Anthony Bass) occupying the last three slots, and Guzman - who is not hitting at all - batting in the five hole. It kind of seems like National League ball again, with Lane, Everett, Ausmus and whomever the pitcher-du-jour as the last four in the order. That brings back warm fuzzies when thinking about 2004-5, and shivers down the spine when thinking of 2010. Regardless it should never look that way in an American League park. Because of the various injuries, this team looks seriously offensively challenged at the moment - although the team from the Dallas-Fort Worth area probably has dibs on injury-related sympathy at the moment.
On the Mound:
Tonight marked the return of the excellent Dallas Keuchel. He was spotting his ball at the knees, coming inside to righties, and throwing his back-foot slider efficiently, getting swings in the process. His final line: 7IP, 9H, 2R/0ER, 0BB, 7K. He also kept the ball on the ground (9:4)
One may suggest the nine hits are a worry, but I would counter with the following facts: three of his hits were infield singles (one of them a bunt from Donovan Solano), and three more were seeing-eye singles along the ground just out of the reach of the fielders. One of his doubles was a little unlucky (it hit third base) and the hardest-hit ball of the night was to the second-last batter he faced. It could easily have been (i) a shutout and (ii) a win for Keuchel tonight.
That said, Keuchel also pitched very effectively around trouble. He managed to make great pitches at critical times, including an inning-ending double-play in the fifth (with runners on the corners) and sixth (with runners on first and second). The Marlins managed to string together some good at-bats against him, and he seemed to lack a put-away pitch, which was often a called third-strike at the knees earlier in the year.
He was unable to escape trouble in the seventh. The frame opened eventfully, with a fairly hard-hit ball to right that Grossman ran down on the warning track. It threatened to get over his head and go for extra bases. Saltalamacchia then stung a line-drive to CF with knuckled, and Kiké had it bounce off the heel of his glove as jumped to track it down. It was scored as an error, and Salty was on first. He (critically) went to second on a passed ball, and Keuchel struck out Marcell Ozuna for the second out. Then, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, on an 0-2 count, hit a slow grounder to short and beat out the throw. If Salty has still been on first, the force at second may have been the easier play. Regardless, runners on first and third, with the nine-hitter Jeff Mathis up.
Well, he stung a first-pitch fastball to the gap in left-centre (and it was well hit, hitting low on the wall below the giant pump), which scored two. That was all the runs that the Marlins would need, and Keuchel's night ended two pitches later with a tame groundout to short.
Josh Fields relieved, and he managed a scoreless outing. It wasn't an easy one, however, and he probably won't be ready to go tomorrow after throwing 34 pitches. Fields' inning went walk, single, K (all on deep counts - 2-2 or 3-2), single to load the bases, fielders choice force at home, flyout to right. The first three at-bats of his frame were excellent - the Marlins fought off a number of good pitches, and eventually managed to get two on with no outs. But Fields got a critical grounder when it mattered, and he managed to leave the score the same as how he found it.
Veras finished up, walking the leadoff hitter, but retiring the side uneventfully.
At the Plate:
This will be brief, as the Astros managed only three hits and 2 walks. The Marlins relief was excellent - the back-end of their 'pen is really impressive - and the Astros only managed to get two runners to second base.
Altuve went 1-4 leading off, and was caught stealing second on review in the sixth. Carter (0-1, 2BB) and Castro (1-3, 2B) were the outstanding offensive performers, and were the only two Astros to get to stand on second all night. Gregorio Petit (1-2) has an impressive .500/.500/.500 line for the 2014 season . Krauss and Singleton both pinch-hit, and both K'd.
Gosh, and that was briefer that I could have imagined.
An 0-2 slow roller to short could have ended the seventh uneventfully, but Gregorio Petit's throw to first was a hair late. As has been the trend lately, Bo popped out of the dugout to show photos of his family to the first base ump while the Astros video team worked feverishly behind the scenes to see if a challenge was worth it. It wasn't, and one pitch later, the Marlins scored the only runs of the game.
Man of the Match:
Chris Carter has been excellent lately, and against a guy having a career start, he was by far the best of the Astros batters. However, he has to share the MoTM with Dallas Keuchel, who rediscovered his form while being a little unlucky with the BABIP-monster (the evil twin of the OPS-monster) and the extra-outs in the game.
Goat of the Game:
Kiké Hernandez has been getting a lot of positive press around here lately, but we-calls-it-as-we-sees-it, and he gets the goat tonight for his 0-4 performance at the dish, and his critical error in CF. The error thing is a little rough because he is very mis-cast as a CF, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and in this case the desperate measure involves (i) putting a 22 year old middle-infielder with a handful of games above AA in CF and (ii) crossing ones fingers and toes.
Tom Koehler (6-7, 3.85) versus Jarred Cosart (9-6, 4.23)
Cosart has had a rough time of it recently, allowing 14ER in his last 3 starts (15-and-two-thirds)
7 Eastern, 6 Central. Some guy is playing some music afterward too, I think.