Roberto Hernández (2-4, 4.92) versus Aaron Sanchez (4-4, 3.88)
Astros fans, this is what it is like to be McCuller'd. The Blue Jay starter Aaron Sanchez played the role of Lance McCullers Jr today, while the Astros were forced into the role of the mostly hapless Baltimore Orioles. The Blue Jays rode a big three-run third inning to an early lead, and Sanchez was able to settle down and just pound the strike zone with what looked like an occasional 96mph four-seamer, and a 93mph two-seamer. And if you were comfortable with that, he also had two breaking pitches to really get you thinking.
So the Blue Jays get some sweet revenge after going 0-4 against the Astros at MMP earlier in the year, and the Astros dropped their first game of the series for the fifth time in the last six series. The Astros lost by a score of 6-2.
On the Mound:
Roberto Hernández got the start for the Astros. He had one exceptionally bad frame, and otherwise muddled through 4-and-two-thirds other frames to nearly go six. I have previously commented on Hernández's marginal effectiveness, and how a club with playoff aspirations will struggle to carry a fifth starter like him unless they get significant contribution in other areas (like the bullpen, for example).
Hernández set the side down in order in the first, including a swinging strikeout of Joey Bats ending a 7-pitch battle. In the second, Hernandez started to get hit hard, including a one-out Chris Colabello double off the RF wall. Russell Martin either walked, or was pitched around (chose your narrative), and the inning ended when Justin Smoak grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, with Jonathan Villar hanging in there on a clean slide by Russell Martin that resulted in Villar's upending.
The third frame was Hernández's eventual undoing. Kevin Pillar led off and reached when Hernández knocked down a ball hit right back up the middle that was destined for Jonathan Villar's glove. Hernández didn't make the play cleanly, and the ball bounced away to the third base side of the mound. The throw was late, and Pillar reached. After a Ryan Goins fly-out - another hard hit ball - Jose Reyes homered deep into the RF-CF gap, scoring Pillar and clearing the bases.
The bases weren't empty for long, because Josh Donaldson hit a clean single up the middle on the next pitch. The next hitter was Jose Bautista, and on a 1-1 count, he hit an elevated fastball (that caught the dead middle of the plate at the top of the zone) into the third deck in left field. The ball was crushed - the second two-run home run of the inning, and still there was only one out.
Edwin Encarnación then doubled to CF and scored when Colabello singled to CF - the fifth run of the inning. The next two outs were both attributed to Russell Martin - he grounded into a fielder's choice, and was then caught stealing in a play that was reviewed, and 10 minutes later, upheld.
Hernández held it together to pitch deeper into the game. Handsome Jake (Buchanan) was warming up in the 'pen from the third inning onwards, but Hernández stranded a leadoff walk at first in the fourth inning, and retired the side on three at - 'em line drives in the fifth. He was eventually removed from the game after an odd play - Colabello (again!) reached on an infield single leading off, Russell Martin popped out on a bunt, and Justin Smoak singled to put runners in the corners with one out. The odd play occurred when Kevin Pillar grounded up the middle - a shifted Altuve made good ground and fielded the ball heading toward first base. Altuve's throw was a little off target, but Chris Carter stretched toward RF to make a nice scoop. As Kevin Pillar ran past first base, however, he knocked the ball out of Carter's glove, allowing Colabello scored from second base. The error was eventually "credited" (debited??) to Altuve, so he managed to record an assist and an error on the same throw. Alan Ashby and Geoff Blum both thought that was strange.
The 'pen, as usual, was nails - despite giving up two walks. Joe Thatcher relieved Hernández and got his two guys. Buchanan relieved Thatcher, and faced four hitters, walking two and recording two outs in a scoreless outing. Tony Sipp looked solid facing Russell Martin, Justin Smoak and Kevin Pillar. He retired all thee on 8 pitches, including a Pillar strikeout.
At the Plate:
Aaron Sanchez had a good night. Which is not surprising, given that he pumps gas in the mid-90's, has wicked sink on his pitches, and has two different breaking pitches. What he doesn't have is a changeup, which may explain why he struggles (comparatively) against lefties.
Anyhow, he faced the minimum through 6 frames, despite giving up two hits (singles to Springer in the fourth and Rasmus in the fifth). Both hitters were set down on double-play balls off the bat of the following hitter. In the seventh, Jose Altuve reached on an infield single, but wasn't erased on a double play, so Sanchez entered the eighth having faced 22 hitters, not the minimum of 21.
The eighth was more of the same, but the ninth was where the Astros threatened to make it interesting. Jason Castro led off with a home run to the RF power alley, which was estimated at 420 feet. The pitch was a two-seam fastball that was out over the plate and missed up, and Castro turned on it, driving it out to the RF power alley. Jonathan Villar was up next, and he punched a clean single to RF. Springer then singled Villar over to third base on another single to right.
Then, fittingly, Villar scored from third (with no outs) without a hit being recorded. George Springer took off for second on a straight steal, Russell Martin's throw to catch him stealing sailed, and Ryan Goins at second base was unable to stop it heading into the outfield. Villar and Springer both advanced a base as the ball was being retrieved, and that put Springer on third with no outs.
Fittingly (again!) Springer was stranded at third as the next three batters were unable to put the ball in play. Roberto Osuna had relieved Aaron Sanchez for the Blue Jays, and he set the side down in order on three consecutive strikeouts. Altuve and Tucker are two of the more difficult Astros to strike out, and Osuna put them away without too much difficulty. The Astros were not able to touch a pitch for the last nine pitches of the ballgame, including seven straight pitches to Tucker and Gattis combined. Four times they swung and missed, twice they watched called strikes go past, and one pitch was a ball. Nasty.
The box for the Astros is pretty sparse. George Springer went 2-4 with a stolen base. Altuve, Rasmus, Castro (HR) and Villar also had hits. No walks. No one other than Springer reached twice.
Joey Bats' second two-run shot of the third frame was ridiculous. It went into the third deck. The Astros weren't coming back after that one, but it did get interesting in the ninth for a while.
Man of the Match:
Jason Castro, for his home run in the ninth, ending the shutout bid.
Goat of the Game:
Roberto Hernández struggled again with missing the ball up. He becomes a whole lot more hittable when that happens because the sinker straightens out. Once Feldman shows signs of returning, the Astros may make a move, but a DFA would carry a risk of losing Hernández for good, and he is eating innings at the moment.
Alternatively, Straily is showing signs of life in AAA and Vincent Velasquez making his case with a WHIP under 1 and a, ERA of 1.37 in Corpus.
On the Morrow:
Brett Oberholtzer (0-0, 3.24) versus Drew Hutchison (4.1, 5.26)
1 Eastern, Noon Central.