CLEVELAND -- The inability of Astros starters to pitch deep into games over the past week is finally starting to take its toll on the team's reliable bullpen.
Manager A.J. Hinch admitted following Wednesday's 6-5 loss to the Indians at Progressive Field that he was without key relief pitchers Will Harris, Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz because of their workload, which made it hard for Hinch to piece things together after starter Doug Fister went just 4 1/3 innings.
Astros starters have been unable to work at least six innings for seven consecutive games, posting an 8.01 ERA in that span. The bullpen has picked up the slack for the most part and didn't allow a run on Wednesday, though lefty Kevin Chapman gave up a two-run double to Brandon Guyer -- pinch-hitting for Tyler Naquin -- in the fifth to put the Indians ahead, 6-3.
"It's tough," Hinch said. "With no Harris, no 'Devo,' no Feliz, the middle innings are tough. Obviously, looking back … the at-bat against Naquin, I needed him out of the game. He's one of their best hitters, and we're going to go with the matchup of their off the bench versus our bullpen guy."
Fister, the Astros' most reliable starting pitcher in the first half of the season, has struggled lately. He's 2-4 with a 7.12 ERA in his last six outings, and only one of those has been a quality start. Fister had allowed only two runs through four innings on Wednesday before Mike Napoli crushed a two-run homer in the fifth. Fister was pulled after allowing two soft singles later that frame, and Guyer brought both baserunners home.
"It's pretty frustrating," said Fister, who hit a pair of batters and allowed six runs on nine hits. "But I've still got a handful of starts left. I've got to turn things around."
Hinch said Fister didn't have finish on his pitches, which is something he does well when he's in a groove.
"He's having a hard time ending at-bats," Hinch said. "There are a lot of pitch counts. There are a couple of misfires that aren't normal for him. He rarely yanks a cutter and hits guys, especially to left-handed hitters. He did that a couple of times today. Execution is key in his game when he's good, and certainly he stands out when he struggles."
With starters Dallas Keuchel (left shoulder inflammation) and Lance McCullers Jr. (right elbow discomfort) in Houston rehabbing and sidelined indefinitely, the Astros will give the ball to a pair of rookies in their next two games. David Paulino will make his Major League debut in Thursday's series finale, and Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.06 ERA) will start Friday's series opener against the Cubs in Houston.