Wednesday, May 25, 2016

From the Office of the County Clerk - G46: Astros versus Orioles

Chris Tillman (6-1, 2.61) versus Doug Fister (4-3, 4.22)

So the O's roll into town (see what I did there??) to kick off a three game set against a reeling Astros side who have been playing... uh... less than impressive baseball lately.  The day off may have been useful for the 'stros - y'know, to take stock, have a think about what has been going wrong, and to rest little niggles.  A.J. Hinch may have been reading the Constable's comments at, because he decided to stack his lineup with lefties, and that included rookies Colin Moran and Tony Kemp.  The O's were also coming off a day off, so both bullpens were rested, and ready for a long affair.  And a long affair it was, with a rookie making all the difference tonight, as the Astros walked off in extra innings with a 3-2 lead to stop a 4-game losing streak.

On the Mound:
Doug Fister got the start tonight, and he continued his solid run of starts after his early-season problems.  He ended up leaving with the game tied and one-out shy of a quality start.  The only blemishes on his record were a couple of home runs - neither of them cheapies - but because they were of the solo variety, he managed to limit the damage.  When not allowing home runs, the lone remaining hit off him was a single, and three other baserunners got to take first on walks.  He struck out three.

A double-play in the first erased a one-out walk to Manny Machado.  Fister loaded the bases in the second with a Chris Davis walk, a fielder's choice, a strikeout, a walk then a single.  However, he knuckled down to strike out Ryan Flaherty on a high fastball that started inside (to the lefty) and ran back over the plate.  Two grounders and a pop-out resulted in a seven-pitch third inning, and he also set the side down in order in the fourth on a ten-pitch frame.  

The first run of the game came in the fifth inning, when Pedro Álvarez hammered a 2-2 pitch to RF, about 5 rows back into the lower level midway between the bullpen and the foul pole.  Fister had managed to start the at-bat by getting Álvarez into an 0-2 hole, before Álvarez evened the count.  Fister then hung a slow curve, Álvarez turned on it, and the game was untied.  But the next three batters went down in order, much to Fister's credit.

Despite two quick frames, Fister's pitch count was getting up there.  He entered the sixth with a 2-1 lead, but immediately gave it up on the leadoff hitter in sixth.  Manny Machado got an elevated full-count sinking fastball down the middle of the plate, and he hammered it to the train tracks in LF.  After a Colin Moran error allowed Adam Jones to reach (the ball took an odd carom off the join of the infield dirt and grass) Fister retired the next two hitters on groundouts.  At 106 pitches, Hinch had seen enough, and he summoned Tony Sipp from the 'pen to turn around the switch-hitting catcher, Matt Weiters.

And Sipp was good.  He set Weiters down on four pitches, the final strike being logged on a peach of a changeup.  Sipp remained on for the seventh, and he started a dominant night for the Astros bullpen, retiring the first two hitters on swinging strikes, and enticing Ryan Flaherty into an 0-2 emergency-hack grounder back to the mound.  Ken Giles - the new and improved version - allowed only a two-out single to Adam Jones in logging a scoreless frame, before Luke Gregerson came on for the ninth in a tied game. 

Gregerson has not been great recently, having been scored upon in three of his last nine outings, yielding six runs in 8.2IP over that time.  He scuffled a little here, too.  After Mark Trumbo struck out, Matt Weiters singled, then Pedro Alvarez struck out for the second out.  A stolen base, an infield single down the line to third base (Colin Moran chose not to try and throw the runner out) then a walk loaded the bases for Joey Rickard.  Rickard, thankfully for Astros fans, lasted three pitches - two well-placed strikes looking, then flailing at a slider away to maintain the tie.

Will Harris got the tenth and the middle of the order, and none of the batters reached in a perfect frame, including two strikeouts.  Scott Feldman allowed a one-out double (after a Trumbo strikeout), but retired the side with two grounders, the second of which was a nice defensive play from José Altuve, who knocked the ball down and kept it in front of him, giving him time to throw the runner out.  In the twelfth, Feldman allowed a second one-out double down the LF line, then issued an IBB to Manny Machado to set up the double play.  Not needed, however, as Adam Jones and Chris Davis both struck out swinging to end the threat.  Then Michael Feliz got the 13th, and he struck out the side on 19 pitches, although getting to full counts on the first two hitters.

The Astros - as a unit - struck out 19 Orioles in 13 frames.  Subtract Fister's six-and-two-thirds (and three K's), and Astros relievers retired 22 hitters, striking out 16 of them.  They allowed five hits (including 2 doubles), but walked only two, one intentionally.  Will Harris, in particular, is just plain nasty at the moment - he has 19 consecutive scoreless appearances.

At the Plate:
Chris Tillman is having a nice season, but he looked like he struggled to control a few of his pitches tonight.  Against a re-jigged Astros lineup (Springer leading off, Altuve batting second) his first pitch was way outside and went all the way to the backstop.  He seemed to be tugging a few pitches glove-side all night, which gave the impression that he was struggling, despite recording some key outs in difficult situations.

The Astros went down in order in the first and second frames, including a seven-pitch frame in the second.  Eight pitches were sufficient to retire the side in order in the third, but the Astros looked to have something cooking in the fourth when a leadoff single to George Springer, and advanced to second on a glove-side tugged pitch with no outs put him in scoring position.  But typical Astros -  a fly out, line out, fly out sequence didn't advance Springer any, and the opportunity was lost.

The Astros entered the bottom of the fifth with a 1-0 deficit on the scoreboard.  Again, something promising when Evan Gattis singled on a 2-2 count - a clean hit up the middle - and Jason Castro (0-4, BB) followed with a walk.  But Colin Moran - still looking for his first big-league hit - responded with a 6-4-3 double play grounder, erasing himself and Castro.  Gattis (1-5) advanced to third, and he got to trot home when Luis Valbuena hammered a full-count elevated changeup to RF.  The pitch was meant to be down-and-away (but still a strike), but Tillman missed belt-high, and Valbuena hammered it.  I think he thought he skied it, because he seemed to pose a little, but once he realised it was gone, a little bat toss and a trot followed.  That gave the Astros the lead, 2-1.

The Astros continued to threaten, however, then Tony Kemp walked on a high fastball.  That was followed by a George Springer walk, and José Altuve hit a hard line drive to second base for the last out.

The sixth inning was notable for a Rasmus (0-3) ejection, which may morph into a Rasmus suspension.  he took a dubious strike two on a 3-1 count - the ball was in the right-handers batting box - then struck out on a curveball that never quite got back to the plate.  He stopped on the way back to the dugout and had words with HP ump Dana DeMuth, got tossed, then tried to close the gap and ended up bumping into the umpire.  For the record, DeMuth's zone was laughable, but why try and tell a story when Brooks Baseball can...  Can you spot the pitches that Rasmus was unhappy with??

Neither side would have been happy, but the Astros were probably the a little more hosed than the O's.  Anyhow, Handsome Jake had to grab a glove and cap, and play the last seven innings of the game.  Not a good exchange when your team is struggling on offense.

Tillman retired the side in the seventh, and Darren O'Day worked around a one-out Springer double in the eighth.  Brad Brach set the Astros down in order in the ninth (including Handsome Jake (0-2), who was leading off), and he stayed on for the tenth, allowing a one-out then a two-out single (Valbuena (2-4, HR) and Springer, respectively) before José Altuve (0-5, BB) scorched one to first base off Mychal Givens for the last out.  The opposing fielder was, like many of the fielders over the last five games, perfectly placed.

Givens stayed on to retire the next six batters he faced in the 11th and 12th.  He has some kind of impressive arm, and his pitches all look the same for the first half of their journeys to the plate before ducking and diving in whatever direction.  He is an impressive pitcher.  But once Givens was out of the game, things went the Astros' way.  Dylan Bundy releived, and on a 2-2 count against the leadoff hitter, he missed arm-side-and-up, over the plate to the lefty Kemp.  Tony Kemp (1-4, BB, 3B) hammered a high fly ball to deep CF - it landed about on the track to the left side of Tal's Hill, just outside the reach of Adam Jones, who had been playing fairly shallow.  Kemp applied the afterburners when he saw the ball drop, and slid into third without a throw to record a leadoff triple.  With the runner on third and no outs, Buck Showalter elected to walk the bases loaded - the only option really - and that brought Carlos Correa up.  Correa (1-6) singled on a 1-1 inside fastball off the fists, dumping it into shallow CF, and Kemp trotted home for the winning run.

Turning Point:
This game was in the balance for much of it, and really the turning point came on Kemp's deep drive to the warning track in the 13th.  Adam Jones was too shallow, but he also nearly made the play.  Kemp was lallygagging a little out of the box - I would have loved to see if he could have recorded an inside-the-park home run if he had have been off to the races from the get-go, but I am also sure that Hinch would have run out of the dugout and handcuffed Gary Pettis' hands to his belt if it looked like that was going to be on the cards.

Man of the Match:
George Springer: 3-4, 2xBB, 2B, leading off.  He has been the best of the Astros offensively in recent times.  But he also didn't score a run.  Not what a good leadoff hitter does.

Goat of the Game:
Sorry, Colin Moran.  0-5, 4K, GIDP, and an error to boot.  Without a doubt, he deserves more of a look, but this wasn't a good night for him.

On the Morrow:
Game Two against the O's

Tyler Wilson (2-2, 3.68) versus Collin McHugh (4-4, 5.13)

8 Eastern, 7 Central.