Ubaldo Jiménez (3-3, 3.14) versus Brett Oberholtzer (0-0, 3.00)
So the Orioles hit Houston for a game-or-three, immediately after the Astros TOOTBLAN'ed their way to a White Sox shutout victory and series win, costing me some alcohol in the process. I think everyone agrees that this Astros team has some problems, but lack of talent isn't one of them, so the odd game when everything goes wrong isn't a bad way to refocus. As long as it doesn't erode confidence, that is. This team is not short on confidence.
Anyhow, the Astros entered tonight facing a touch starting pitcher, and with significant rotation difficulties of their own. A strong performance from Brett Oberholtzer was sorely needed for the good of the Astros' starting rotation in general. Taking the first game of a series would also be a nice change - they have lost the first game of the series the last four times in a row, and five out of the last six series, with only the mid-May 4-game home sweep over the Blue Jays bucking the trend.
Anyhow, the Astros eventually knocked Ubaldo Jiménez out of the game after six-plus frames, taking the lead in the seventh, and eventually winning by a score of 5-2. I feel better about this game, but perhaps I shouldn't, because more TOOTBLANs, more runners gunned down at home, and a fastball to Jason Castro's knee were all concerning features of today's game.
On the Mound:
Brett Oberholtzer pitched a fairly strong game, looking as good as he has looked for a while. His eventual line was nothing to write home about (5.1 IP, 7H, 2BB, 3K, 2K/ER, 82 pitches), but he is bound to be lacking a feel for pitching (due to a lack of game time) and he looks like he has room to improve.
Obie started very well, retiring the side in the first with a wonderful strikeout of Adam Jones to end the frame (a back-foot breaking ball inside to the righty). He set the side down in order in the second on 10 pitches. Obie allowed the first two hitters to reach in the third: Caleb Joseph on a line drive off the glove of a leaping Altuve (the ball sliced away from him, but he did misplay it) then Ryan Flaherty on a sinking line drive to CF, sending Joseph to second. A strikeout and a double play ended the frame without problem.
In the fourth, Obie allowed the leadoff hitter to reach on a line drive to LF, but then picked him off one pitch later. Carter and González combined nicely to record the out, which was scored as a caught stealing. Delmon Young singled to CF on a high fastball, but the inning ended without incident two pitches later on a grounder to second.
The Orioles scored a run in the fifth. Steve Pearce walked, and seemed happy about it, as indicated by the bat-flip. He scored when Ryan Flaherty climbed into one, hitting a line drive to the RF side of Tal's Hill. Rasmus was shaded over into the LF gap, so he had a long run, and so did Springer, who eventually picked it up. And because Gary Pettis does not coach third base for the Orioles, Flaherty stopped at third (what a concept!), but Pearce didn't, and he scored. Obie bounced back to fan Everth Cabrera on a high fastball away, then Marwin González made a stunning spinning play on a bouncer up the middle. He stretched for it behind second base, spun, and threw a two-hopper to first to get the force. Worth a look.
Obie also conceded a run in the sixth. Adam Jones worked a one out walk - bouncing back from 0-2 - and Delmon Young singled on an elevated fastball into right. Thank goodness that Young is as slow as molasses, because he was unable to score when Chris Davis smashed an inside breaking-pitch deep to RF, off the base of the wall near the foul pole for a double.
With runners on second and third, Hinch brought in Will Harris and his 0.38 ERA for a stint on the mound. Well, he retired the next two batters without a runner scoring, including a Steve Pearce three-pitch strikeout, which ended on a nasty curveball. Harris returned to strike out one in a scoreless seventh inning. Pat Neshek also retired the side in order and, not wanting to be upstaged, so did Luke Gregerson (striking out two). Another dominant 'pen performance - 3-and-two-thirds, no baserunners, two RISP inherited, neither of whom scored. Yikes.
At the Plate:
Jiménez is a mercurial pitcher who is enjoying a solid season. He possessed a solid WHIP (1.18) and ERA (see above) starting this game, and he improved both measures of pitching prowess when he set the Astros down in order in the first. George Springer struck out swinging on a high fastball away, and Preston Tucker went down swinging on a low splitter. Jiménez continued his strikeout binge in the second, setting Gattis down swinging (on a pitch at head height, for goodness sake) and Rasmus on another splitter. The Astros went down in order in the third as well.
In the fourth, Preston Tucker doubled down the LF line on a pitch away. He dumped it into LF, and walked into second base, as the left fielder had to head all the way over to the line to get it. However, Evan Gattis struck out for the second time on a splitter down. Rasmus grounded out to end the frame.
The Astros entered the fifth one down, and Jiménez struck out Carter for the first out. However, Luis Valbuena - the second batter of the inning - took a flat splitter and deposited it 6 rows into the RF stands to level the scores. The ball caught the strike zone over the middle of the plate at the knees, and Valbuena put a flatter-looking swing with good extension on it, driving it out. Next batter was Jason Castro, and he wore a fastball to the right knee, which floored him in obvious pain. Castro was on first when Marwin González grounded out to first - the Orioles went to second for the force, and shortstop Everth Cabrera was ruled to have dropped the ball on the transfer. Castro was still out, but with the benefit from slow-mo and multiple angles, it looked to me like he never gloved the ball properly, and that the play was not correctly called.
The inning continued when George Springer walked, with Marwin already on second after a steal. Jose Altuve when drove a clean base hit the other way, right in front of Delmon Young. Gary Pettis - perhaps unhappy with Ryan Flaherty stopping at third in the last half-frame - waved González around third, and he was toast at the plate by one-third of the length of the third-base line. It was a terrible send, and the Astros lost another runner at the plate for the second time in two nights. Sigh.
Tucker and Rasmus both struck out in a perfect sixth frame, but all that did was set up a four-run seventh. Chris Carter opened the frame with a hard single off the LF wall - Lough in LF played it perfectly, and Carter was forced to retreat to first. In a tight game, Jiménez was lifted, and replaced by Brad Brach, who walked Luis Valbeuna on a full count, and allowed a first-pitch single to RF by Hank Conger. Bases loaded with no outs before a Marwin González strike out, but George Springer picked him up with a 3-0 base hit up the middle, scoring pinch runner Jonathan Villar and keeping the bases loaded. The pitch was a get-over fastball away, and Springer didn't try to do too much with it, hitting a hard liner up the middle. That tied the game, but Jose Altuve hit a go-ahead sac-fly to the warning track in the LF power alley. The runners didn't advance, but Preston Tucker re-loaded the bases with a walk, before Evan Gattis drove in two on a line-drive grounder the other way for the last run of the game. Preston Tucker was thrown out at third trying to advance - no blaming Gary Pettis there.
Colby Rasmus singled leading off the eighth, and advanced to second on Villar's swinging bunt which the pitcher fielded, recording the out at first. Then Luis Valbeuna grounded one up the middle with Everth Cabrera made an awesome play just to corral. However, Rasmus rounded third too far, and Cabrera threw behind the runner, gunning Rasmus down. Very similar to Villar's play yesterday, and again the major factor was the momentum of the fielder - in yesterday's play, Sánchez gathered the ball running toward third which was where the bounce took him, while in this play, Cabrera's slide resulted in him facing third base, with the play all in front of him.
The Astros managed 9 hits and 4 walks, with one HBP. Luis Valbeuna was the hero (2-3, BB, HR), whereas Chris Carter continued his climb toward respectability (1-2, BB). George Springer and Preston Tucker both had a hit and a walk (1-3, BB, with Tucker having a double and Springer driving in one). Jose Altuve went 1-3 with a sac-fly, Evan Gattis (2RBI) and Colby Rasmus both went 1-4, Jason Castro was HBP (0-1) and Hammerin' Hank Conger went 1-2, BB. Marwin González walked, but was hitless in three at-bats.
González's play in the fifth frame was fabulous, and held the Orioles to one run in that frame. Again, check it out.
Man (Men) of the Match:
The 'pen was great. Will Harris continued to strand baserunners, and Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson have both been solid. Harris has allowed no hits (but two walks) in his last six-and-two-thirds, and hasn't allowed a run in his last 10-and-two-thirds. Pat Neshek is coming off a month where the opposition batted .125/.125/.156 off him, and he allowed 4 hits (1 double) in 32 plate appearances.
Goat of the Game:
I remember this concept being bandied around last year or the year before: if you know the name of the third base coach, then that ain't good, because he is getting attention, and that attention is going to be for all the wrong reasons. I woke with a cold sweat last night, and my wife said I was yelling something about Gary Pettis shortly beforehand. Not good.
Rare 17-game day in MLB tomorrow - the Dodgers and the Rockies, and the Blue Jays and Nationals both have double-headers. The Astros, however, play only one against the Orioles.
Mike Wright (2-0, 1.40) versus Collin McHugh (5-2, 4.24)
Wright is a 25 year-old right-handed rookie with 3 appearances in the majors, all in 2015. He has thrown 176-odd AAA innings since he was promoted in 2013, allowing 81 ER, with a 135:50 K:BB ratio.
8 Eastern, 7 Central.