Collin McHugh (4-0, 3.41) versus lefty Hector Santiago (2-2, 3.14)
The Astros slink into Anaheim after coming to earth with a bit of a thud. A four-game sweep of the Mariners led in to a series against the Rangers, who have successfully discovered the Astros' kryptonite - waiver-wire pitchers. The Astros bats suddenly when cold against three guys who have been very freely available on waiver wires over the years, and that led to a three-game slide.
So tonight, the Astros decided to counter with their own waiver-wire pitcher, Collin McHugh. His is a fabulous turn-around story, as he celebrates his first successful year in the big-leagues. Around this time last year, he was just hitting the scene, and the more he pitches well, the less he looks like some kind of fluke. Leading into this game, he had thrown just over 185 innings for the Astros, which have led to 59 earned runs, good for a 2.85 ERA. He had allowed less than a hit an inning (148), has walked 47, and struck out 183 in that time. Those look like the numbers of a keeper to me.
Before we launch into the game recap, I just want to present A.J. Reed's line for Hi-A Lancaster: 3-4, 2BB, 3HR (including a grand slam and a three run homer), 5R, 9RBI. And while we are talking about minor leaguers, Preston Tucker is one no more. He got the start in this game in left, with Rasmus sliding to right against the lefty Santiago. Villar got the nod at short, and Valbuena started at third. The Astros were scoreless for eight innings, but scored enough in the ninth for the win. Astros 3, Angels 2
On the Mound:
Collin McHugh was strong in this game. His outing was bookended by run-scoring innings, with Mike Trout hitting a home run to dead CF in the first - the ball came off the very top of the outstretched glove of Marisnick, who nearly made another highlight-reel play going back in CF. The offending pitch was a fastball that was meant to be down-and-away, and leaked back over the middle of the plate on a 1-0 count. Give Trout his due - he crushes pitches like that - but missed location was the problem there, and it probably wouldn't have happened if the pitch was located 8 inches to the glove side, where it was planned.
McHugh was strong from there, allowing his next baserunner on a one-out single to RF off the bat of Albert Pujols in the fourth. But he faced the minimum, as Pujols was erased on a weird double-play. Matt Joyce was facing Marisnick on an 0-1 count, and he got jammed on a high fastball, popping it just to the right of second base into CF. Marisnick got a solid jump, and he was the only guy who was going to make the play. In the end, he caught it comfortably while running in. Albert Pujols, who wasn't running on the play, must have forgotten the number of outs, or desperately wanted to go first-to-third, or something. Marisnick had the luxury of recording an 8-unassisted double play when he trotted toward the Astros dugout and touched first base on the way. Worth a look for it's oddness.
McHugh also faced the minimum in the fifth thanks to another remarkable double play. David Freese led off with a single, and with one out Johnny Giavotella grounded one up the middle. The ball was hit hard, and bounced over McHugh. Villar at short had no chance, but he covered second. Jose Altuve fielded the ball a couple of yards behind second and slighty to the left-field side, and in a deft move, he flicked it back toward second. I don't think he even gloved the ball - as Blummer said, he "redirected it" back in the opposite direction.
But the good play didn't stop there. Villar had to cover second, and he was turned the wrong way with his chest facing the outfield. Villar had to twist quickly while touching second, and he got a solid throw off to get Giavotella by a step or two. The crowd couldn't believe it. Worth a look.
McHugh also faced the minimum in the sixth, when he struck out two. He was really solid from the second to the sixth inning, and he managed strikeouts on a range of pitches and in a range of locations. However, the seventh wasn't as kind to him - a 2-out double and a hit-by-pitch had runners on first and second, but Erick Aybar grounded out to second to end the frame.
The eighth was definitely unkind to McHugh. Johnny Giavotella led off by grounding a squibber just inside the third-base bag for a double. Colin Cowgill laid down a very decent sac bunt, then Chris Iannetta walked. At 97 pitches and a lefty (Calhoun) up, Hinch summonsed Joe Thatcher from the 'pen as a LOOGY. Kole Calhoun responded by lining the first pitch over Villar's head at short for a base hit and an RBI, and the Angels led by two. Pat Neshek replaced Thatcher, and Neshek got Trout to fly out to CF, a couple of steps short of the warning track. Pujols then grounded into a batted-ball out when Chris Iannetta was unable to get out of the way of a shot hit toward short and he got hit in the leg.
The Astros started the bottom of the ninth with the lead, and Gregerson had it going on. He retired the side without allowing a baserunner, and the game was over. Gregerson looks dominant at times, and he looks to be a very solid investment for the Astros this year.
At the Plate:
Nothing much happened until the ninth. Jose Altuve led the game off with a single, but Valbuena GIDP to erase him. The Astros went in order in the second - two strikeouts. In the third, Preston Tucker popped up in his first ML at-bat, Villar reached on a throwing error, was balked to second, and that led to an intentional walk by Altuve. Double steal because no one was covering third - the look on Scioscia's face was priceless - but Valbuena struck out to end the frame. Carter walked in the fourth, and also advanced on a balk, but was stranded at second. Tucker walked in the fifth, but was the victim of a force out to end that frame. Rasmus walked in the sixth. They went in order in the seventh - two strikeouts.
There were some signs of life in the eighth, when Joe Smith allowed a Villar leadoff single. Altuve flew out to RF. Villar then stole on a pitch-out - a genuine bang-bang play, and he was ruled safe. He went to third on the Valbuena groundout, but Evan Gattis flailed at a slider off the plate for the third out.
The ninth was awesome. I was in a tyre shop, having the suspension on the family chariot worked on, listening on the radio. Thankfully, no one else was in the waiting room. Colby Rasmus led off against Huston Street by dunking one into RF, then Carter hit a broken-bat liner over the shortstop to advance him to second. Castro flew out for the first out. Marisnick followed a great at-bat - he was down 0-2 early, fouled off an unhittable slider, then took a low-and-away slider into shallow left for a single. Rasmus scored on the play, and the Astros trailed by one with runners on first and second, and a guy with no ML hits at the plate.
Handsome Preston Tucker responded to the pressure packed situation by barrelling a grounder just to the right of Pujols (between second and first). Marisnick went first-to-third, and Kole Calhoun's throw air-mailed the third baseman, and bounced off the dugout fence. The Angels were lucky that the ball didn't enter the dugout, but instead it bounced favourably back into the field of play. Marisnick was unable to advance but Tucker went to second on the throw. Villar was up next, and he had a solid at-bat, walking on five pitches with the go-ahead run on third. That loaded the bases, and Jose Altuve hit a broken-bat grounder on a 1-2 count to the second baseman Giavotella. But the ball was a slow roller and although the force at second was well in time, Altuve was safe at first by a step. Marisnick scored from third. Luis Valbuena struck out to end the frame - Game Day said the ball was off the plate, but such is life.
Fabulous comeback by the Astros. Solid batting lines from Altuve (1-4, BB, SB); Rasmus, Carter and Preston Tucker (1-3, BB); Handsome Jake (1-4) and Villar (1-3, BB, 2xSB). The Big Bats struggled, with Valbuena going 0-5 and Gattis 0-4 in the second and third lineup slots respectively.
Preston Tucker, veteran of no major league hits, hit a clutch grounder past a diving Pujols to drive in the game-tying run, and send the game-winning baserunner to third base. It was a first-pitch fastball, low in the zone, and Tucker didn't try and do too much with it. I hope he gets a start tomorrow.
Man of the Match:
Strong performances from a number of guys, including Tucker and McHugh, but the MoTM goes to the middle infielders, Altuve and Villar. They batted well, stole lots of bases (including one each at the same time), and turned a filthy double play.
Goat of the Game:
Valbuena and Gattis have close to identical triple-slashes: .194/.263/.437 and .198/.219/.426 respectively. They had near-identical lines today: 0-5 and 0-4 respectively. Only three strikeouts between them, however, so perhaps things are looking up.
Roberto Hernandez (1-2, 4.25) versus Jered Weaver (0-4, 6.29). Battle of the fire-ballers!
10 Eastern, 9 Central.