Astros wrap solid homestand with loss
Houston went 5-4 against strong competition and got back the bulk of its starting rotation
HOUSTON -- The Astros survived one of their toughest stretches of the season with a winning record, which didn’t seem very likely when bullpen meltdowns Friday and Saturday against the Padres left them with six losses in seven games and tons of question marks about their relief corps.
A terrific run of starting pitching, which included a club-record seven consecutive games in which a starter allowed just one run, came to an end Thursday afternoon. Jake Odorizzi lasted only three innings in a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox at Minute Maid Park in his second start since missing a month with a right pronator strain.
Behind the strong starting pitching and one of baseball’s most potent offenses, the Astros went 5-4 on a crucial nine-game homestand against three of the best teams in the Majors. They split with the Dodgers, lost two of three to the Padres (with both losses in extra innings) and won three of four from the Red Sox.
“We could have been down after we lost those games to San Diego, which we could have very easily won,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “But we came back against another very good team and won three of four.”
The most important development of the homestand was that the Astros returned three starting pitchers from the injured list -- Odorizzi, Framber Valdez and José Urquidy. Valdez, who missed the first two months with a fractured left ring finger, allowed two runs in 11 innings in two starts. Urquidy, who left his May 12 start with right posterior shoulder discomfort, returned from the IL on Monday and held the Red Sox to one run in six innings in Houston's 11-2 win.
“Very happy to have the guys back,” said infielder Aledmys Díaz, who went 2-for-3 Thursday. “We’re getting [close to] full strength right now, and it’s great. We’re playing good baseball right now, and hopefully we can build on the last couple of games and keep winning,”
And then there’s Luis Garcia, who had his two longest starts of his career in beating the Dodgers on May 26 and the Red Sox on Tuesday. He has emerged as a viable big-league starter, going 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA in his past four starts, and he is making a case to stay in the rotation when Lance McCullers Jr. (right shoulder soreness) comes off the IL. That could be later this month.
Odorizzi, who held the Padres to one run in 5 1/3 innings on Saturday in his return, took a step backward Thursday. He allowed three runs -- on a three-run homer by Christian Arroyo into the first row of the Crawford Boxes in the second inning -- and walked three batters, and he wasn’t efficient.
Odorizzi didn’t have a good feel for his split-fingered fastball and said his extension point was shorter on that pitch than on his fastball, which led to poor command and execution.
“I was kind of erratic with the release point and got frustrated,” he said. “Just a bad command start. That’s how I would sum it up. It’s one thing if you have good stuff and it happens, but I wouldn’t say my stuff was good at any point today.”
The return of Odorizzi, Valdez and Urquidy allowed Baker to move Cristian Javier to the bullpen, where he should help stabilize things. Garcia could be moved to the bullpen when McCullers is back, but Odorizzi has been Houston's least effective starter so far. That’s a storyline to watch closely going forward.
“I’m just going to work on getting back in the zone and having better command and control and filling up the strike zone,” said Odorizzi, whose next start will be against the Red Sox in Boston. “I’ll see these guys in five or six days, and I hope it’s better after some tweaks.”