Brown shows resilience with solid outing

April 17th, 2024

HOUSTON -- The health of ace pitchers Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez -- both of whom are closing in on returning from the injured list -- will go a long way in helping the Astros stabilize a starting pitching staff that’s struggled to consistently work deep into games, which has taken its toll on the bullpen.

The domino effect has been pretty much a worst-case scenario for rookie Astros manager Joe Espada, who has had to make a number of roster moves to bring up fresh arms from Triple-A just to cover innings. It’s nothing that can’t be corrected with a few deep outings by a starter, which right-hander was able to deliver in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Braves at Minute Maid Park.

Brown, who was rocked for 11 hits and nine runs in 2/3 of an inning in his previous start Wednesday in Kansas City, responded by throwing six strong innings -- his longest start of the season. He gave up two runs, five hits and three walks and struck out three batters, lowering his ERA from 16.43 to 10.54.

“It was probably the worst, if not one of the worst, outings of my life,” Brown said of his outing against the Royals. “I was champing at the bit to get back out there. I got my teammates’ support leading up to this outing. I wanted to go out there and try to deliver some quality innings for this club.”

Brown allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in three of the first four innings, but catcher Yainer Diaz threw out two of those runners stealing and Brown got a double play in the second. That came before Orlando Arcia hit a towering homer that the Astros challenged hit the yellow line on the left-field wall and caromed into play for a double. The play stood as called after the review.

“I thought they missed that call,” Espada said.

Even Arcia thought it was a double.

"To be honest, I thought it was a double because it hit and bounced back onto the field," Arcia said through a translator. "I was thinking it was a double, but thankfully, it was a homer."

That was the only blemish through six innings against Brown, who went back out in the seventh and allowed the first three batters he faced to reach. Espada, with a 1-0 lead, pulled Brown after 88 pitches in favor of Shawn Dubin, who limited the damage in a bases-loaded jam, with Arcia hitting a sac fly to make it 2-0.

“I just executed my pitches today better than I have at the start of the season,” Brown said.

For Brown to be effective, he needs to pitch inside and keep hitters from leaning out over the plate. Espada liked the way he used both sides of the plate and mixed all his pitches, including the cutters he threw to lefties.

“You’ve got to keep them uncomfortable, and I thought he did a really good job,” Espada said. “That was a really strong performance.”

The game spun away from the Astros in the ninth when Dubin was rocked for four runs, including a two-run double by Chadwick Tromp against reliever Forrest Whitley, the Astros’ former top prospect who became the third Houston pitcher to make his Major League debut this year.

Braves starter Reynaldo López threw six scoreless innings, allowing four hits, and the Braves carried a shutout into the ninth. Kyle Tucker led off the inning with a solo homer -- his fifth -- and the Astros cut the lead to 6-2 later in the ninth and had two runners on base when Braves closer Raisel Iglesias was summoned for the final out.

“They pitched well and our guys are grinding at-bats,” Espada said. “Even in the ninth inning, the guys are grinding, fighting to the end. We almost brought, [Jose] Altuve, the tying run to the plate. We forced them to use the closer, which is always a good thing. We can come back tomorrow and keep getting after it.”

J.P. France will start Wednesday’s series finale, before the club heads out on a three-city, eight-game road trip in which Verlander and Valdez could both return to action. Verlander threw a bullpen session Tuesday and will likely start Friday or Saturday against the Nationals in Washington.

Slowly but surely, the Astros’ rotation is coming together.