Bielak stifles Rox in Astros' 5th straight win
If the Astros were going to neutralize their poor start to the season, they needed to find some continuity within their pitching staff. Their 2-1 win over the Rockies on Monday at Minute Maid Park provided more proof that they’ve been able to do that, having offset considerable chaos that enveloped them soon after the season opened.
Brandon Bielak isn’t the only reason the Astros have climbed back into the fray, winning their fifth in a row. But he’s a big one.
The rookie pitcher -- of which there are many (many, many) on this Astros roster -- was far from perfect with his command in the series opener against the Rockies. But he was able to keep the damage to a minimum, utilize support from a flawless effort from the defense and hold one of baseball’s best lineups to one run over six innings.
“To keep [Nolan] Arenado and some of those great hitters they have off the board, that was outstanding,” manager Dusty Baker said.
It would be a tad dramatic to say the Astros were a total mess when the season opened, but after an easy series win vs. Mariners, things started to unravel. This was partly due to an inexperienced bullpen filled with rookies who were expected to provide stability when the starters, not yet stretched out after a brief ramp-up, weren’t absorbing enough innings.
But now it’s mid-August and pitchers are getting into a groove. Bielak, in his fourth start overall and his third this month, yielded one hit to the potent Rockies lineup in an 87-pitch outing that marked his longest of the year.
“A lot of times, rookies are inconsistent in their performance, but he's been very, very, very consistent,” Baker said. “He's gone deep in every game that he's started, and it takes a lot of pressure off our bullpen.”
Said Bielak: “It's fun going out there, having the best defense going out there. Great catchers [behind the plate]. It's been fun going out there and just attacking the hitters and doing my job, honestly.”
Bielak, who hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any outing this year, has a 1.69 ERA. His emergence hasn’t been a total surprise to an organization that watched him rise through the system after it drafted him in 2017.
Rated as the Astros’ No. 13 prospect by MLB Pipeline heading into Spring Training, Bielak was presumed to be among the next wave of Astros hurlers, many of whom were moving up the ranks quickly, following trades that had skimmed the upper echelon of Minor League talent.
Bielak has been a quick study. That’s really the only option he has, if he is going to contribute meaningfully to a team missing so much from its 2019 pennant-winning pitching staff.
“The confidence, the composure, its like he’s been in the league for eight years,” said shortstop Carlos Correa, who drove in both of the Astros’ runs with a two-out double in the first inning. “The guy is throwing the ball well, he's putting in the work. What happens backstage, what I see … everything he does in the gym, he's out there working. That guy is dedicated. He wants to be great. He wants to help us win ballgames. I love that attitude.”
Bielak had a few hiccups in this outing against the Rockies. He issued four walks, three of which led off innings. None turned into runs however -- Colorado’s lone run came on a Trevor Story homer with the bases empty and two outs in the third.
“I felt my arm was a little late on the heaters in the windup, so it's something I'm going to be working on in between starts,” Bielak said of his command issues on the walks.
Bielak’s ability to work out of jams and keep the Rockies off balance led to a triumphant ending for his roommate, Blake Taylor, who celebrated his 25th birthday by plowing through the heart of the Rockies’ order en route to his first career save.
Whereas Bielak took a more measured approach while assessing his night on the mound, Taylor, bubbling with enthusiasm, didn’t hold back.
“Today has just been one of the best days of my life,” Taylor said. “It was my birthday today, and I hope Dusty was thinking I had a little birthday magic in me.”