Wednesday, April 22, 2015

From the Office of the County Clerk - G14: Astros in Seattle

Collin McHugh (2-0, 1.54) v Taijuan Walker (0-2, 17.18, which is not a typo)

I apologise, all five of AC's loyal readers, for the lack of game recap-pery over the last few days.  I was at the Astros game against the Angels, and had to leave shortly before the last out to make it to the airport to catch my flight home.  I arrived at the airport in time... only to sit on the tarmac, watch lightning flash outside for a couple of hours, then fly to LA three hours late, miss my connection, and arrive home 8 hours late, tired and severely jet lagged.  While I watched G13, I was in no condition to write coherently about it, so I am afraid games 12 and 13 will have to slide by without much in the way of comment on the Astros County website.

Except to say that the Astros peeked over .500, and bolted to the top of the AL West in the process.  Luis Valbuena hit three home runs in the two games, the bullpen remains solid, the starting pitching - while not being great - has kept the team in games, and the Astros have, for once, managed to capitalise on the odd error made by the other team.  Normally, it is the other way around.

I can't help but feel a little punished.  Cockroach may understand.  I have recapped games for around 12 months now - Cockroach much longer - and it seems that we have collectively written about some horrible, horrible baseball.  But the Astros manage turn a young season around in a short space of time... and I am not really available to write about it.  Suffice to say that if I was sitting in my parents basement, watching the games and hunched over a keyboard all ready to type, the Astros would probably reel off a 15 game losing streak and kill the season once and for all.

So, Astros fans, wadaya reckon about setting up a "give-a-little" account that can be used to keep myself and Cockroach so busy that we are unable to recap games??  I like the idea, personally.  I have a lot still to do on my bucket-list.  For now, however, I am itching to start recapping game 14, which was a doozy, so without further ado, I present the score: Astros 6, Mariners 3

On the Mound:
Collin McHugh got the start tonight, and struggled with his control in the first few innings.  For some reason, things weren't really there for him early in the game.  He missed frequently with all his pitches - some by a long way - in the first few innings.  His start, however, mirrored the way the game flowed.  The Astros dominated late - as did McHugh - and finished the game strong, coming from behind in dramatic fashion.

The good bits first.  McHugh retired the last 11 batters of the game while facing the minimum - from the last two outs of the fourth inning, through to the bottom of the seventh.  He left trailing, but the Astros broke out in a big way in the top of the eighth, and McHugh was awarded the win.  His final line: 7IP, 7H, 3R/ER, 2BB, 3K.  He also had two wild pitches - and would of had a third had Castro not thrown out the runner trying to advance.

McHugh managed to concede a run without giving up a hit in the first.  Dustin Ackley walked on four pitches - none of which were particularly close - then he went to second on a wild pitch that was a bang-bang play after Castro blocked a low curveball.  A no-out flyout into the RF corner allowed Ackley to advance, and he scored on a Robinson Canó slow rolling grounder to third for the first run of the game.  Valbuena was well off the line, which meant Ackley had a large secondary lead at third, and he probably would have scored even if they had tried to cut him down at the plate.

McHugh allowed only a one-out single in the second (after making a great play on a Kyle Seager swinging bunt that ended up down the 3B line), then a lead-off single followed by a one-out single in the third.  That put runners on the corners, and a Robinson Canó single (on an elevated change up) scored Mike Zunino for the Mariners second run of the game.  The Mariners lost a baserunner trying to advance on a blocked strike in the dirt on a perfect throw by Jason Castro (and possibly a late tag by Jose Altuve), then Nelson Cruz struck out swinging on a nasty curveball to end the frame.

McHugh leaked another run in the fourth.  Kyle Seager led off with a double into the RF corner, advanced to third on McHugh's second wild pitch, and was joined on base with no outs when Seth Smith walked on a full count.  With runners on the corners, Logan Morrison hit a line drive to Jose Altuve, who dropped the ball on the transfer, which squirted away from him.  Because, however, Altuve had a chance to catch the ball, the runner held at third, and Altuve was able to flick it over to second for the force out and first out of the inning.  Brad Miller then hit a clean single to left field on the first pitch of his at bat, scoring Kyle Seager, and putting runners on first and second.

From that point onward - runners on first and second with one out in the fourth - McHugh was nails.  He allowed one further hit - a single in the seventh to Brad Miller - which he promptly erased on a double-play the following pitch.  He stopped missing with his pitches, got a couple of calls around the margins of the plate, and generally pitched with a lot more control.

Pat Neshek relieved to start the eighth, and he struck out the side - looking on the first two, and swinging for the last one.  He was also hitting the inside corner with impunity - something the Mariners hitters weren't that happy about.  Chad Qualls got the save opportunity in the ninth because Luke Gregerson had worked three days in a row.  He set the side down in order - the first two batters on strikeouts, and Logan Morrison on a grounder to short to end the game.

At the Plate:
The Astros have been miserable with runners in scoring position thus far in 2015 - .160 starting this game - but they managed a slightly better 4 for 11 today.  The big hit was an Altuve bases-clearing double in the eighth, which put the Astros ahead for good.  Altuve had been up to the plate with bases loaded twice before in the game, and on both occasions had hit the ball hard, but allowing easy outs on both occasions.  But in the eighth, he roped a double just over Kyle Seager's head, into the left field corner, and a speedy Jake Marisnick was the trail runner who managed to score all the way from first.

Prior to this, the Astros had been typically inefficient with baserunners.  Valbuena and Springer walked and singled respectively in the first, but didn't advance because of strikeouts to Gattis and Castro.  Taiwan Walker struck out the side in the second - he looked pretty good with the high heat and low change-ups at this point of the game - but he opened the third by walking Jake Marisnick on a full count.  Marisnick fouled off two good pitches in the at-bat: he is making plenty of solid, hard contact at the moment, and looks like an absolute steal if he continues raking.  Marisnick took third on Valbuena's single into RF - he is also hitting the ball hard at the moment, as the bat-flip on the single showed.  Marisnick scored on George Springer's pop-up to short which Brad Miller caught while back-pedalling.  Miller pulled his throw to the plate up the first-base line a little, and Marisnick eventually scored after a four minute, marginal review of a play at the plate that was initially ruled as an out.  That tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the third.

The Astros managed plenty of baserunners in the fourth, loading the bases with two outs on a walk, a double, and a hit-by-pitch.  Altuve grounded it straight to shortstop for the third out.  In the sixth, Altuve was again up with bases loaded and two outs (on a Castro single, a Carter walk and a Marisnick infield single), but he flew out short of the warning track in CF for the third out.  Carson Smith - yet to give up a run in his career of 17 innings pitched - retired the side in order in the seventh for the Mariners.

The eighth is where it all happened for the Astros, with five runs crossing the plate without an out being recorded.  Robbie Grossman reached when Robinson Canó had trouble gloving the ball cleanly, subsequently bobbling Grossman's grounder up the middle.  Canó's error took on more significance with the second at-bat of the inning, when he stepped to his right on a ball hit to his left by Marwin González, who seemed to be a little late on the swing, hence perhaps the odd angle off the bat.  Robbie Grossman when to third on the play, then scored when Chris Carter hit a hard single on a grounder up the middle - a nice piece of hitting overall.  Jed Lowrie pinch hit for Colby Rasmus, and he worked a walk on a full count to load the bases - again, a solid at-bat.  Jake Marisnick followed with a hard line drive to CF which dropped just short of Austin Jackson, and each of the runners moved up 90 feet.

That set the stage for Jose Altuve, who hit a line drive on a fastball that was meant to be located away, but leaked back over the plate.  Marisnick - as the trail runner - scored without a throw, and Altuve cruised into second.  It was a nice piece of hitting, and acted as a much-needed mini-slump-buster for Altuve, who has had a tough series so far.  Altuve stole third with one out, followed by a Springer walk, then Evan Gattis grounded into a perfect double-play to short to end the frame.

And if you think the Astros' offensive woes are behind them, please remember that Fernando Rodney struck out the side (all swinging) in the ninth.  A couple of them on fastballs down the pipe.

Turning Point:
It would be easy to point to Altuve's at-bat in the eighth for the turning point, but had McHugh not gotten out of the fourth and re-discovered his pitching mojo in the process, Altuve's hit may never have happened.  So, with two on in the fourth, McHugh retired Mike Zunino on a fly-ball to RF (and Seth Smith showed George Springer's arm the respect it deserved by not advancing) and coaxed Dustin Ackley to ground it to short to end the frame.  McHugh then faced the minimum for the next 3 frames, showing much better control.

Altuve, also, wins a Turney award, for the second Turning Point.  Up for the third time with bases loaded, he took a Danny Farquhar 0-2 fastball that ran back over the plate, and nailed it into the LF corner to clear the bases.  That ran the score to 6-3, which was the eventual margin by which the Astros won.

Man of the Match:
Jake Marisnick has been hot, slashing to an unsustainable .361/.415/.556 line thus far in 2015.  While that is unsustainable, would anyone else take .280/.330/.430 from him, with elite CF defence?  Frick, I would.  Today, he went 2-2, BB, HBP, RBI, 2 runs scored.  He also went 2-2 with runners in scoring position - a big part of the Astros going 4-11 with RISP today.

Goat of the Game:
Gattis.  0-5, 3K.  Both he and Carter are struggling a little with their timing at the moment.

Up Next:
The Astros head into an off day by sending Roberto Hernandez (0-1, 3.38) to the bump.  They will face ex-Stro J.A. Happ (0-1, 2.70) who seems to have added some velocity to his fastball since he left Houston.  Look for a righty-heavy lineup - perhaps González or Villar at third, and Grossman in left.

Night game - 10 Eastern, 9 Central.