Sure, the Astros’ quest for a third consecutive American League West division title is likely over after they lost four of five games in Oakland, but not all was lost this week at the Coliseum. A strong outing by pitcher Jose Urquidy on Thursday bodes well for the prospects of
Sure, the Astros’ quest for a third consecutive American League West division title is likely over after they lost four of five games in Oakland, but not all was lost this week at the Coliseum. A strong outing by pitcher Jose Urquidy on Thursday bodes well for the prospects of what he could contribute in October.
Urquidy, whose stellar debut season of 2019 was capped by five scoreless innings in Game 4 of the World Series, held the A’s to two hits and two runs in six innings in the Astros’ 3-1 loss. The Astros fell to 1-8 on their season-long 11-game road trip, and with the four losses in Oakland, have dropped 6 1/2 games behind the first-place A’s.
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“It’s heartbreaking,” outfielder Josh Reddick said. “Nothing has been going our way. Everything is going the other guys’ way. I think today was very disheartening.”
Still, the Astros are in good position to grab a playoff spot in this year’s expanded postseason -- the top two in each division make the playoffs, plus two additional Wild Card clubs -- and Urquidy has re-emerged as a viable candidate for the playoff rotation.
“An absolutely fantastic job by him today keeping a good lineup on its toes,” Reddick said.
Urquidy, who missed most of the season following a bout with COVID-19, was making only his second start of the season. He returned from the injured list on Saturday and threw 3 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits, at Anaheim. That was his first start since a dazzling World Series outing that solidified his spot in the rotation to start 2020.
“He pitched a great ballgame, and we didn’t score [enough] runs today,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He’ll be stronger even next time, because his endurance is up. He’ll get more and more endurance as he goes along. Today we had an 80- to 86-pitch limit, and that’s where it was when he exited the game today.”
Urquidy threw 55 of 88 pitches for strikes, relying mostly on his fastball and changeup. Six of his nine swings and misses came on his fastball, which averaged 92.7 mph. He threw 63 pitches his first time out on Friday.
“I felt stronger than the first time,” Urquidy said. “I felt good and healthy today.”
Urquidy sent down the first 10 batters he faced before allowing two walks in the fourth, and he didn’t allow a hit until Mark Canha singled to lead off the fifth. A two-out walk in the sixth became costly when Matt Olson hit a two-run homer that put the A’s ahead, 2-1.
A’s starter Sean Manaea held Houston to one run in seven innings.
“Urquidy was awesome today,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He did a great job. It was a pitchers' duel for the first six innings, and really that way the whole game. Not a lot of hitting, but he was awesome. He pounded the zone, did a great job. He’s an unbelievable pitcher and teammate for us. It’s good to have him going and pitching well.”
If the Astros can get Justin Verlander back in time for the playoffs and put him in a rotation that includes Urquidy, Framber Valdez and Zack Greinke, Houston has a formidable group. And if the nerve irritation in Lance McCullers Jr.’s neck doesn’t keep him out of action long-term, the Astros will suddenly have rotation depth in October.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.