McHugh shakes off rain, shines on big stage
Astros starter holds Royals to 2 runs on 4 hits in postseason debut
KANSAS CITY -- A 49-minute rain delay is just long enough to give a manager reason to not have his starting pitcher return to the mound when play resumes. It's also short enough for a manager to feel relatively confident his pitcher can keep pitching.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch picked the latter when deciding on the Game 1 fate of right-hander Collin McHugh. Citing a "soft rule" of about an hour when deciding if a pitcher could keep going when play resumed, Hinch said he never really considered not sending McHugh back out.
McHugh rewarded that decision by leading his team to its second postseason win of 2015, in his first career postseason start, as the Astros topped the Royals in the opener of the American League Division Series, 5-2.
After waiting out rain and lightning that halted the game after the second inning, McHugh pitched four more frames, allowing four hits and two runs total over the six-inning outing.
There really wasn't much discussion among Hinch and his coaching staff about McHugh during the delay. He was staying in.
"It goes pitcher by pitcher," Hinch said. "I think the key is knowing your guys, knowing a little bit of delivery, a little bit of arm action, a little bit of comfort with where he was. We checked in with him a couple times. But he was never really coming out of that game."
That was McHugh's understanding, too, as he stayed warm in the clubhouse waiting for the rain to pass.
"I got in the clubhouse, and I think I was making people nervous because I was pacing around the whole time," he said. "I threw some heat on my arm and pretty much just paced and made sure I wasn't going to let myself get tight."
That course of action seemingly worked. McHugh threw 92 pitches, scattering four hits and walking one.
"The first inning after [going] back [out] was about as good an inning as he had the whole night," Hinch said. "I would say where it came into play was a little bit more [at] the 90-pitch mark. When he got through the sixth and we have a fresh 'pen that's matched up pretty well against them, I paid a little bit of attention to the delay at that point."
Both Royals runs came off the bat of one hitter -- Kendrys Morales, who hit solo shots in the second, before the delay, and the fourth, after play resumed.
"The first at-bat, I made a good pitch to him," McHugh said. "It was a cutter up and in off the plate. That was six or seven inches off the plate, and he turned on it. Not only turned on it, kept it fair, which is impressive."
The pitch to Morales in his second at-bat? Not so good.
"It was a changeup I put out there on the tee for him," McHugh said. "Not on purpose. But just kind of hung right there for him, and he put another good swing on it."
McHugh, a 19-game winner in the regular season, has been somewhat overshadowed by AL Cy Young Award candidate Dallas Keuchel, the bearded ace and leader of the pitching staff. But McHugh's contributions over the past two seasons have been key in the Astros' quicker-than-expected turnaround.
And McHugh's performance on a national stage Thursday night provided a perfect setting to introduce himself to a larger audience.
"He has a lot of weapons to pitch to some weaknesses in the hitters, and he's put together a string of starts that will convince you that you don't sneak up on 19 wins," Hinch said. "That's a lot of wins."