Monday, April 3, 2017

Opening Day in the Office of the County Clerk - G1: Astros versus Mariners

Dallas Keuchel (bunch of zeros) versus Felix Hernandez (ditto)

Here in the Office of the County Clerk, we will be covering as many games as we can in this exciting 2017 season.  At least until the Astros open the season 1-10, then we will lost enthusiasm quickly.  I would have written 0-10, but they can't, open the season 0-10, because the "1" was earned on Opening Day, against the Mariners, with a 3-0 win.  That takes the Astros' AL Opening Day record to a perfect 5-0, so yeah, this AL thing works out pretty well for at least one game into the season.

This game was everything the fretting Astros fan could have asked for.  Dallas Keuchel looks like he is back, baby.  The bullpen managed a scoreless night, but not before allowing a few palpitations - it wouldn't be an Astros bullpen without a little bit of drama.  The offense was impressive, with the Astros' homerless streak lasting a total of zero outs in the 2017 season.  Plus a general improvement in at-bats and plate discipline was noted.  But the MoTM, somewhat controversially, was awarded to the collective team defence, which was impeccable.  The Astros' glovework meant that when the Mariners did threaten, they were unable to score.  Read on for details.

On the Mound
Dallas Keuchel was impressive, yielding an overall line of 7IP, 2 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.  More impressive was the way in which he kept the ball down, worked both sides of the plate, and hit McCann's glove constantly.  He tended to run the ball in on lefties and righties, managing to work his fastball inside on both when needed.  Both breaking and offspeed pitches tended to exhibit late life, meaning they looked like strikes until late in their journeys to the plate.

Keuchel started the season by allowing a single from Jean Segura, before he retired the next nine in order.  The last of those nine was Jean Segura again, who laid a perfect bunt just onto the infield grass to the 3B side of home plate.  But Keuchel's fielding off the mound continues to be impressive, and he hit Gurriel's glove with a strike just before Segura touched the first base bag for an impressive forceout.  Similar work post-bunt with another barehanded fielding play saw Leonys Martín retired in the seventh - the last out of the night for Keuchel.

The only inning that Keuchel was really in trouble was the fourth.  Robinson Canó singled on an 0-2 breaking ball with one out.  Nelson Cruz walked after being 2-0 and 3-1 up in the count.  Kyle Seager went down looking on a 2-2 fastball down and away.  The dangerous Danny Valencia walked to load the bases (Keuchel wanted no part of him), then Leonys Martín grounded routinely to Altuve on the first pitch of his at-bat to end the frame.

Keuchel benefitted from some impressive defense.  He made two great plays on bunts to the 3B side where he showed off his barehanded abilities, his ability to change direction quickly, and his arm strength and accuracy.  George Springer made a great warning-track catch retreating in CF on a 114mph line-drive off the bat of Nelson Cruz to end the sixth.  Yuli Gurriel made a bunch of great scoops on low throws, including throws from Correa and Altuve at important times.  Correa and Altuve both made plays that would be to the slightly difficult side of "routine".  Also, Correa has an impressive arm.

Keuchel gave way to Gregerson to open the eighth after 85 pitches.  It was business-as-usual for Gregerson for the first two batters from the frame with a groundout and a strikeout.  Then Jean Segura hit a high chopper that bounced miles over the head of Bregman, and Correa fielded it deep in the hole.  No play could be made.  Mitch Haniger followed with a full-count walk.  Then Robinson Canó worked the count to 3-1 (and the runners advanced on a pitch in the dirt) before he hammered a line drive that Springer tracked down in RF, again retreating, but this time more slowly.  While this did not require an impressive play from Springer to corral, 20ft either side, or a better launch angle, and at least two runs would have scored.  The Mariners, truthfully, were perhaps a little unlucky here.

Ken Giles was asked to take the ball for the ninth.  He seemed to lose the handle on a couple of pitches, overthrowing a few times.  He hit 99 on the gun relatively easily, and struck out the side while walking only Kyle Seager on a 3-1 count.  Giles looked good - perhaps even dominant - and there is clearly room for improvement going forward for him if he improves his command.  Extra opening-night adrenaline may not have helped him.

At the Plate:
The Astros were fairly impressive in this domain as well.  The runs were scored on a Springer lead off home run (on the fourth pitch that Astros hitters saw this year), an impressive Correa home run (inside fastball that Correa turned on, and managed to keep fair) and a Correa sac-fly with runners on the corners.  Three was all it needed.  Overall, the Astros had seven baserunners (6 hits, 1 walk), but only struck out six times (although King Felix isn't really a strikeout machine any more).

Correa's home run was impressive - Hernandez tried to run a fastball up and in, and Correa was expecting it (as he said in the post-game interview).  He drew his hands in, and I think hit it over the train tracks behind the LF foul-pole.  Bregman also had a great at-bat against Nick Vincent leading off the sixth - he worked an 11 pitch walk, then went to third on Altuve's first hit of the season (a single into the LF-CF gap), scoring on Correa's fly out to CF.

McCann, Gurriel and Beltrán all went hitless.  Everyone else had one hit, except Bregman who managed a hit and a walk.

Turning Point(s):
Two great escapes:  Keuchel escaped a jam in the fourth by getting Leonys Martín to ground out to second base for a relatively routine force out.  Luke Gregerson managed to bring the tying run to the plate, then found himself behind in the count to Robinson Canó (who has killed him in the past).  Gregerson tried "the old fastball down the middle" trick, but had George Springer perfectly positioned in RF to glove Canó's smash.

Man of the Match:
The lazy answer would be one of Keuchel, Correa or Springer.  But I think that the most vital component of this win is actually the defense (with Keuchel, Correa and Springer all contributing to that as well!!)  Keuchel vacuumed up two pretty well executed bunts for force outs, and started a DP on a grounder back to the mound.  Yuli Gurriel made a bunch of excellent scoops at first, showing he has good hands for that position.  Springer caught the two hardest-hit balls of the night, one while retreating toward Tal's Hill the new restaurant in CF.  Correa and Altuve were both faultless in the middle infield.  The defense was impressive, overall, which bodes well for the ground ballers.

On the Morrow
A treat!!  More baseball tomorrow!!

Hisashi Iwakuma versus Lance McCullers.

8 Eastern, 7 Central.  Tune in for more awesome defense!