Youngsters Brown, Diaz feature career marks in 2nd straight series win

May 14th, 2023

CHICAGO -- The Astros haven’t started the season as sharp as they would have liked after winning the World Series. With injuries and new faces in place, the team is going to need some of its young players to step up.

In Sunday’s 4-3 win over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, a pair of 24-year-olds helped Houston win its second consecutive series. delivered a near-quality start, and launched his first career homer.

“We jumped them early and then kind of held on,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Hunter was good. He probably made only three mistakes, and it cost him some runs. He made a mistake to [Luis Robert Jr.] on the homer, caught too much of the plate and hung a breaking ball for a home run. But it was big that we scored the runs that we scored and Yainer got his first homer. It feels good to go home.”

Diaz has been the primary catcher with Brown on the mound this season, starting behind the dish in six of his seven starts. On Sunday, Baker went with at catcher but still decided to keep Diaz’s bat in the lineup.

And it worked out in Houston’s favor.

Diaz hammered a hanging changeup off Lucas Giolito for his first Major League home run in the fourth inning . The solo shot extended the Astros' lead to 4-0 and was the eventual deciding run in the game.

“You see a guy's track record, and you know what he can do even though it’s at another level,” Baker said about Diaz’s 25 homers in the Minors in 2022. “One reason why I set him up there and in previous nights is [we] know what power that he does have. You just have to get the first one out of the way and he got that first one today.”

With Maldonado as the Astros’ primary catcher and catcher César Salazar also on the roster, Diaz hasn’t appeared in many games this season. He entered Sunday with just 48 plate appearances in 15 games in 2023. 

But his homer in Sunday’s victory was the biggest one of the season. And his teammates gave him the silent treatment as he entered the dugout before mobbing him in celebration. 

“Just very proud of all the work I’ve been doing with all the hitting coaches,” Diaz said through interpreter Jenloy Herrera. “They’re the ones that have been able to keep me on time.”

Diaz’s homer helped give Brown an early lead on the mound after delivered a two-run RBI double in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 and on-base streak to 34 games.

Brown was dominant early on but eventually ran into trouble later in his outing. He retired 10 of the first 13 batters he faced before giving up a solo homer to Robert in the fourth. He then gave up a two-run homer to Jake Burger in the sixth on an inside breaking ball before exiting.

“I felt good,” Brown said. “Obviously, you don’t like to give up homers. I don’t think many people do. But you know, it happens, and we were able to come out of there with a win. The bullpen came in and shut it down after.”

Brown had 19 whiffs on Sunday -- nine with his curveball -- and finished his outing allowing three runs on seven hits with one walk and eight strikeouts across 5 2/3 innings. His eight strikeouts tied his career high.

“[The curveball] is definitely one of if not my best weapon,” said Brown, who struck out seven with his curveball. “I didn’t throw it until I got to pro ball, so if you look at it in that sense, it has evolved pretty well.”

Despite the injuries to Lance McCullers Jr. (right arm muscle strain), Luis Garcia (Tommy John surgery), and José Urquidy (right shoulder inflammation) and the loss of Justin Verlander this offseason, the rotation has stepped up, including Brown. 

Houston entered the day with the third-best rotation ERA in the Majors (3.31), and Brown has been a part of that early-season success. It hasn’t been all perfect for him so far, but he has shown enough flashes early in his career to be a dominant rotation arm for years to come. 

“He’s like one of the futures of this team,” Baker said. “He’s very determined. He’s not overwhelmed by anything. He’s learning. He’s a quick learner.”