Sam Deduno (0-0, 2.89) against LHP Roenis Elias (0-0, 3.18)
Neither of the starters kicked the season off in their respective rotations, so this was a compelling matchup in its own little way. Deduno has been pretty solid in long relief with infrequent work for the Astros, going 4IP/1ER, 1IP/0ER, 1IP/1ER, 1IP/0ER and 2.1IP/1ER in his relief outings so far. Elias started against the Twinkies a week ago, and went 5.2 innings, giving up 2ER, which is his only appearance of the year. The Astros, of course, were riding their own 7-game win streak, while Jose Altuve had a personal 8-game multi-hit streak going on. A lot of pride rode on a good performance at the Juice Box tonight.
The Astros rode a homer-barrage to an early lead, and had a critical late-game homer at the end of the game. The last run was critical, because Luke Gregerson caught a dose of Homer-itis himself in a save situation, but in the final wash-up, the Astros wound up one run ahead. Astros 4, Mariners 3, with both the team and Altuve's streak remaining intact. The Angels lost, so the lead in the West is 5 games, and the Astros remain tied with the Royals (who also won) for the best record in the AL.
On the Mound:
If it looked a little like a "Johnny Everyman" start from the 'pen, that is because it was. Deduno was the nominal starter (and the best candidate to start, as well), but as his game-log suggests above, he hasn't exactly been stretched out. I saw him start against the Astros last year (when he was a Twin), and it seems that his fastball command is still a little iffy, but he really seems to have improved on his breaking ball. It is possible that his early season form is sustainable to a degree if he has made some change to improve his repertoire.
Deduno worked around tough first inning. For a start, he was nearly decapitated by Seth Smith on a comebacker, but he knocked the ball down and recovered for the force out. Austin Jackson - who he had trouble with all night - worked a one-out walk, and stole second with two outs, but was unable to score on a single to RF. People aren't running on Springer's arm, which I guess is good. A grounder to second ended the frame.
In the second, Deduno struck out two and retired the side in order. In the third, Deduno struck out the first two batters before Austin Jackson walked with two outs, and scored on a Robinson Canó double to RF. The Astros were playing mostly straight up in the infield, but Springer was shifted into the CF-RF gap, and when Canó grounded one through the right side, Springer had a long run to get the ball. Jackson scored easily. Villar and Carter combined to make a nice play from deep in the hole for the third out - the field and throw from Villar, and the scoop from Carter. Deduno worked around a one-out triple in the fourth to record a scoreless frame - all outs were recorded on groundouts.
Josh Fields relieved to start the fifth, and he struggled a little with control while striking out the side. Some of his pitches missed by a fair way, others were perfectly placed. He got the nod to open the sixth frame, and after allowing a single to Canó and striking out Nelson Cruz, Kevin Chapman relieved him to attack the run of left handed hitters. Chapman set the remaining two hitters down in order to complete the scoreless frame.
In the seventh, Chapman opened the frame and struck out Brad Miller. He was relieved by Pat Neshek, who seems to be functioning as a rightly specialist at the moment. Neshek set down his two batters without a problem. Chad Qualls relived to open the eighth, and he set his three down in order for another clean inning. At this point, worth noting that the 'pen had pitched 4 scoreless innings, allowing 1 hit, no walks and striking out six.
Luke Gregerson came on for the three run save. He needed all three runs, because he promptly gave up two solo homers to Cruz and Logan Morrison. Cruz's homer was mammoth, nearly hitting the @astrostrainguy up on the tracks in the LF-CF gap. It was one of those slider things that Gregerson throws that was meant to be down and away, and missed in. It was crushed, and it would be interesting for Bobby Dynamite to tell us how many balls he has seen hit that far. Logan Morrison's shot was decent too - not a cheapie - 5 rows back into the RF stand, and hit on a line as well. That pitch was supposed to be inside to the lefty, but missed over the plate - similar missed location for both homers despite the different-handedness of the batters.
Gregerson's strikeout of Rickie Weeks was a thing of beauty... and relief.
At the Plate:
The Astros scored two in the first. Jose Altuve walked on four straight to open the frame, then he hung around at first while Elias threw over, like, a gabillion times. Valbeuna and Springer both went relatively quietly, the Evan Gattis got an 0-2 breaking ball which hung, and he hit a flat shot into the early rows of the Crawford Boxes. Nice piece of hitting on a fat pitch, and the Astros were up early. Carter grounded out to end the frame.
After a Rasmus strikeout leading off the second, Handsome Jake was up. On an first pitch fastball, he also hit a drive deep into the Crawford Boxes. Elias (the lefty) missed glove-side-and-up, and Marisnick was covering the inner third well. It was a decent drive - a no doubter at MMP really - and the Astros had an early 3-0 lead.
Jason Castro and Jonathan Villar followed with singles, but Jose Altuve grounded into a twin-killing to end the frame. Both Castro and Villar (both 1-3) were guilty of nice pieces of hitting. In the third, a Valbeuna single was erased by a Springer strikeout and a Gattis double-play. Marisnick (1-2, BB, HR) walked with two outs in the fourth, but Elias struck out the side for a scoreless frame.
Jose Altuve had his first hit of the night in the fifth, with one out. He was stealing when Valbuena (1-4) grounded out to second for the second out, then Springer walked. Both hitters advanced on a breaking ball in the dirt, the throw from the catcher Sucre went to second too late to get Springer, but Altuve rounded third too aggressively, then slipped when he tried to get back to the base. He was tagged out easily for the third out.
The Astros went in order in the sixth (groundout and two more strikeouts) and seventh. In the eighth, the Mariners shifted their infield to the left side against Altuve (2-3, BB), and he singled where a conventional 2B would have been standing for his second hit. However he was erased on a double-play two pitches later, which was a pity because Springer (1-3, BB, HR) got himself into a 2-2 count before pounding a hung curveball down the middle off the Blue Cross sign in the Community Leaders array over the Crawford Boxes. That took the Astros to 4-1 up. Carter (0-4) lined out to deep CF for the last out with Gattis on first, capping a tough night.
Evan Gattis - down 0-2, with a man on and two outs - got an unexpected gift from Roenis Elias. A hung curveball. That started the home run barrage for the night: all Astros runs were scored using the Crawford Boxes, and six of the seven runs in the game were scored on round trippers. The Astros never trailed after the first inning - setting the tone early is a tempting thing to do to continue a win streak.
Man of the Match:
Evan Gattis - 2-4, 2RBI. The man is strong, and is hopefully heating up.
Goat of the Game:
Colby Rasmus - 0-3, 3K. He has had a good week, and is going to have nights like this. But tonight, he gets a pet goat to place gently in the back of the truck, and take to a nice paddock somewhere to graze and perhaps milk.
The four-game series against the Mariners continues....
Collin McHugh (3-0, 2.92) versus Taijuan Walker (1-2, 6.86)
7 Eastern, 6 Central - if my calculations are correct. Punting for a 9 game win-streak tomorrow, loyal readers.