'Pen falters in 9th after Urquidy's short start

Baker on pulling righty after 3 IP: 'Got to take care of him’

September 8th, 2021

HOUSTON -- The moves the Astros made at the Trade Deadline to shore up their bullpen have been met with mixed reviews so far. Kendall Graveman has gotten some big outs -- and given up a grand slam to his former club -- and Yimi Garcia and Phil Maton have been hit or miss. 

All in all, the Astros’ bullpen has performed at about the same level post-Trade Deadline as it did pre-Trade Deadline, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. There’s a reason the Astros made three deals to acquire four relief pitchers -- to bolster the bullpen for the stretch drive and the playoffs. 

So when starter José Urquidy lasted just three innings in his second start back from the injured list Wednesday afternoon against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park, the Astros were in a tough spot. The Mariners scored six runs off the Astros' bullpen, including three runs in the ninth inning off All-Star closer Ryan Pressly, to pull away for an 8-5 win in the series finale.

“I’m not worried,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker, who used seven relievers. “They’re working a lot. That’s the thing. We need a couple of deep games to give these guys a [rest]. Sometimes, one day off isn’t enough to necessarily rebound. We’re going into a stretch where we play a lot of consecutive games. They’re going to be working probably a lot, so we need to get some innings out of our starters.” 

The win allowed the Mariners to get within 5 1/2 games of the Astros, who lead the American League West. This was the final meeting of the season between the two clubs.

Urquidy, who went 4 1/3 innings Friday in his first start since June 29, nearly imploded in the first inning, giving up a pair of runs on an Abraham Toro double before stranding the bases loaded. He retired eight of the final nine batters he faced before being pulled after only three innings (70 pitches). 

“He wasn’t sharp, and he had that one inning when he had a bunch of pitches,” Baker said. “He wasn’t sharp like he was last time. Last time, he just maybe ran out of gas from not being out there [since June 29]. It was a case like nobody was really sharp today, as you saw. We had a couple of walks, and then we had three breaking balls and they didn’t miss them. They either hit them hard or they hit them over the fence.”

The Astros led, 4-2, in the fifth thanks to homers by Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve before the Mariners feasted off Houston’s bullpen.

Garcia -- acquired in July from the Marlins -- was charged with two runs in the seventh on a two-run double by Jarred Kelenic, who hammered a breaking ball off Maton -- acquired in July from the Indians.  

“We brought in Maton because he’s been historically good [against] lefties,” Baker said. “The kid, Kelenic, hadn’t hit a breaking ball the whole series and [Maton] hung a breaking ball. He left one up out over the plate. The same thing with Press. Like I said, the guys weren’t sharp today that [are] ordinarily sharp. [Blake] Taylor left one up, a breaking ball to [J.P.] Crawford. It’s a little bit disheartening, because they don’t foul them back, they don’t miss them, they don’t pop them up. You can’t even do that in the Home Run Derby when you know what’s coming. We just went through a couple of bad periods here.”

A two-run single by José Marmolejos in the ninth off Pressly put Seattle ahead, 6-4, and Taylor gave up a two-run homer to Crawford to allow the Mariners to avoid the sweep.  

Urquidy, a known strike-thrower, threw only three first-pitch strikes to the 15 batters he faced. That included 10 consecutive first-pitch balls. 

“His velocity was 91-92 and he’s usually around 93-94,” Baker said. “His changeup was pretty good. He wasn’t as good as normal. That’s why we got him out of there. We didn’t want to go to the ‘pen quite that early. We can’t hurt the guy again. We’ve got to take care of him for the next start. [We did] everything we could to try to win that game.”