Scott Kazmir (6-5, 2.10) versus Nick Martinez (6-6, 4.01)
I would have loved to go through the process of recapping the games that are already done in this series, but I probably would not have loved the content. I have only had time to listen to a couple of innings here and there, and I have seen the highlights of the key plays. It seems like the Astros are again decidedly un-clutch at the plate, and/or the Rangers bullpen suddenly does not suck. This, combined with the Astros being on the back foot through the whole series because starting pitchers either (i) get lit up or (ii) get used in relief or on short rest, and you can see how this has gotten painful in a hurry.
But the offensive unclutchness remains problematic, and it continued tonight in another 3-4 loss to the Rangers, who swept their second series in a row, and now lead the Silver Boot series by 8-4. Not good. Happily, the Angels has scuffled too - they remain two games back, and now the Rangers close to within five. The Astros have managed a stunning road losing streak that had better sort itself out in a hurry, lest the lead evaporate and they drop out of contention.
On the Mound
Kazmir continued the Astros’ recent run of starting poorly – aka being BABIP’d to death by the Rangers top of the order. He threw 25 pitches in the first, eventually allowing three unearned runs. The first two runners both reached on errors – a swinging bunt by Delino DeShields was not cleanly picked up by Kazmir himself half way between the mound and home, and DDS was able to reach first. Right Fielder and recent call-up Ryan Strausborger then laid down a sac-bunt just onto the grass in front of the plate, and Hammerin’ Hank (starting on a hot night and first start since his two homer game) threw it into RF - although Jose Altuve (covering first) contributed more than a little by falling over when he decelerated into first. That put runners on the corners with no outs, and a sac-fly (Marisnick in left was fooled, and caught it with his momentum heading away from the infield, killing any chances for a play at the plate), a walk, and consecutive singles up the middle scored the three runs, before a fly out and strike out ended the carnage in the first.
That was only a temporary reprieve from the carnage, however. Chris Gimenez led off the inning with a home run to CF, increasing the lead of the Rangers to 4-0 at the time. Conger wanted the pitch down and away, Kazmir missed glove side and up, and Gimenez drove it to the left side of the batting eye in CF for a solo shot. A nice piece of hitting, overall.
From this point on, Kazmir was nails. He retired the rest of the side in order in the second, and set down the 4-5-6 hitters in similar style in the third. In the fourth, only Adam Rosales reached on an infield single with one out, but because the next two hitters went down in order on strikeouts, he was not able to advance. In the fifth, the Rangers 2-3-4 hitters were retired on seven pitches for a much-needed short frame, partly thanks to Carlos Correa's fantastic Jeter-like jump throw to retire Adrian Beltré.
Kazmir ran into some trouble in the sixth, and it ended his night right on 100 pitches. Mitch Moreland singled to RF leading off, but he was promptly erased on an Elvis Andrus double-play. Ryan Rua then walked after a 10 pitch battle royale, and Adam Rosales sent him to second on a single to LF. That was enough for A.J. Hinch - he called for Chad Qualls out of the ‘pen, and Qualls (the new and improved version!) immediately set down Chris Gimenez on a grounder to short to end the frame.
Josh Fields relieved to open the seventh, and he retired the side in order, including a three-pitch strikeout of the resurgent Prince Fielder to end the frame. Pat Neshek allowed a lead off single to Adrian Beltre, but he struck out two of the next three, holding Beltre at first base. And because the Astros totally failed to hit with runners in scoring position (again!) or even move runners with productive outs, they didn’t even get to pitch a ninth frame.
At the Plate
Nick Martinez hasn’t been pitching well after a strong start to the season. In his first five starts, he allowed 3 runs in 32 innings pitched. In his last five starts (28IP) he has allowed 24 earned runs. True to form, he retired the side in order in the first on 12 pitches, including a first pitch out against Jose Altuve, and a full-count grounder to Carlos Correa. In the second, Jed Lowrie hit one toward the CF-RF gap, but it hung up a little long, and was caught. Evan Gattis then walked on a full count, Colby Rasmus flew out, and Hammerin’ Hank lined out to the only guy on the left side of the infield for the last out.
Nick Martinez retired the Astros in order in the third, but they managed to scratch a run across in the fourth. Carlos Gómez - who has been as hot as anyone over the last week or so - walked and stole second (doing a great job of maintaining contact with the bag as he slid through) before Jed Lowrie doubled to the RF-CF gap, driving him in with one out. The ball bounced off the base of the wall on the full, and the right fielder Strausborger did a great job of playing the carom, which went toward CF. Gattis and Rasmus were both unable to advance Lowrie past second (Rasmus lined one into RF that was caught by a diving Strausborger), however, so the Astros only managed to cut into the deficit by one.
Hammerin’ Hank walked leading off the fifth, but no other hitters managed to put anything together, so he only managed to advance to second on a ground out. Nick Martinez must have been pitching with a quick hook – he was removed after 5 innings and 76 pitches in favour of the suddenly-effective Rangers bullpen.
Anyhow, the Astros immediately capitalised to pull within one. Carlos Correa walked with one out, and stole second and third in Lowries at-bat, which ended with him walking too. Correa scored on Gattis’ single to RF, and Lowrie only managed to advance to second, but there was still only one out. Freeman – the lefty – relieved, and he promptly walked Colby Rasmus to load the bases with one out. Hammerin’ Hank then walked on five pitches to drive in the second run of the frame - both walks were on close pitches, and the Arlington crowd was getting a bit antsy. Valbeuna was left in to face Freeman (this screamed for a pinch hitter, although that would have meant that Spencer Patton came in one batter early), and he struck out on a 2-2 count on a high fastball out of the zone ending an 8 pitch at-bat. Handsome Jake made the last out of the inning against the third reliever of the frame (rightly Spencer Patton got Marisnick to fist a fastball up and in to shallow CF) to leave the bases loaded. Again, how about a pinch hit at-bat? (For the record, I would have pinch hit with Chris Carter for Valbuena, and left him in to play first base, then pinch hit with Marwin González for Marisnick against the righty, and left him in to play left field). Boy oh boy - those unproductive outs really, really hurt.
And that was it for scoring. Spencer Patton retired the side in order in the seventh. In the eighth, Jed Lowrie led off with a walk, then Gattis GIDP to erased him, which was a pity because Rasmus singled to RF immediately afterward. Rasmus went to second on a wild pitch before Hammerin’ Hank flew out to end the threat - he was late on a fastball up and in, and he flew out to medium RF.
The Astros also had their opportunities in the ninth. Marwin González – pinch-hitting for Luis Valbuena one at-bat too late – singled to RF to lead off the frame. Jason Castro, pinch hitting for (and presumably playing LF on behalf of) Jake Marisnick, grounded Gonzalez to second. Jose Altuve then wore a pitch on his arm to take first – go ahead run with one out – but Gómez and Correa both went down to end the game - both on similar pitches - sinkers running down and in to the righties.
Lowrie (1-2, 2B, 2xBB) and Conger (0-2, 2xBB) both walked twice, and joining them on base with walks and hits were Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus (1-3, BB). The top three of Altuve, Gómez and Correa all went 0-4, although each reached base once on either a HBP (Altuve) or a walk. Valbuena and Marisnick both went 0-3.
Pick an un-clutch at-bat. Any of 'em. Valbuena's was probably the key. In the sixth inning, with bases loaded an one out, and hard-hit fly ball would have drawn the teams level. The result was a strikeout swinging - albeit ending a tough at-bat - but that really, really hurt.
Man of the Match
No MoTM tonight. I am too annoyed.
Goat of the Game
A.J. Hinch has to get his lineup sorted out. Jed Lowrie needs to play most days, and I would oscillate him between first and third. Chris Carter needs to start some - unless they are sitting him because of an injury, or to work on something in his swing, he needs to be given an opportunity. Apparently he needs to heat up - that ain't going to happen watching Valbuena succumb to some lefty-on-lefty violence. And the Astros need to strike out less in critical situations. Rant over.
Oakland! After a night game! Yay!
(Although no one in their right mind would want to play in Arlington during the day at the moment)
Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.58) versus Aaron Brooks (1-0, 3.09)
10 Eastern, 9 Central.