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Astros again can't back SP as Urquidy deals

Greinke aims to continue rotation's success in must-win Game 4
@AJCassavell
October 14, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- Three games, three strong outings from Astros starters, three Houston losses. The formula wasn’t supposed to look anything like that. The first three games of the American League Championship Series have followed a familiar-yet-unlikely script this week.

SAN DIEGO -- Three games, three strong outings from Astros starters, three Houston losses. The formula wasn’t supposed to look anything like that.

The first three games of the American League Championship Series have followed a familiar-yet-unlikely script this week.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 TB 2, HOU 1 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 12 TB 4, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 13 TB 5, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 14 HOU 4, TB 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 15 HOU 4, TB 3 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 16 HOU 7, TB 4 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 17 TB 4, HOU 2 Watch

In the Astros' 5-2 loss to the Rays in Game 3 on Tuesday night at Petco Park, Jose Urquidy became the latest tough-luck loser, joining Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers Jr., who held that dubious distinction in Games 1 and 2.

Now, it's up to Zack Greinke to change that tough luck in Wednesday's Game 4 -- or the Astros will be leaving San Diego sooner than they imagined.

Urquidy was crisp and efficient through five scoreless innings, using a four-pitch blend that kept the Rays off balance. The decision to send him back out for the sixth, even as Tampa Bay entered its third trip through the batting order, was something of a no-brainer. Urquidy had thrown only 67 pitches, most of them relatively low-stress.

“He was good,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He was very good.”

Even as the Astros came apart in the sixth, it was hardly Urquidy's doing. Randy Arozarena singled through the hole between shortstop and third base to open the frame, prompting a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom. Urquidy got just what he wanted three pitches later -- a harmless grounder to second off the bat of Brandon Lowe. A double play may have been tough, but shortstop Carlos Correa didn't get the chance to try to turn it.

Jose Altuve's throw bounced, Arozarena slid in safely and Urquidy's night was done. Baker called for right-hander Enoli Paredes.

“I liked the matchup because it was a fresh arm,” Baker said. “It was the third time around, and you bring in some power.”

The Rays poured it on from there, scoring five times in the inning, the first two charged to Urquidy. He finished having allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits. For the third time in as many nights, Houston was wasteful with a stellar performance from its starter.

It’s hard to know what to make of the Astros’ pitching this week. They entered the series with serious question marks in the rotation. They’ve gotten every answer they could’ve hoped for. Through three games, Houston starters have combined to post a 2.00 ERA. They’ve racked up 23 strikeouts in 18 innings, while allowing only 12 hits.

Somehow, the Astros' three starters have been tagged with three losses.

“Runs are very difficult to come by, especially when you're not getting that big hit,” Baker said. “Everything went wrong in that five-run inning. ... It hurts to know that you come so close in winning all three games.”

Houston’s pitching plans the rest of the way are simple enough. It’s all hands on deck for as many as four elimination games in the next four days.

But first thing’s first. Greinke gets the ball in Game 4, making his eighth postseason start for the Astros. Greinke’s AL Division Series start against the A's was pushed to Game 4 as he dealt with right arm soreness, but he noted on Tuesday that those issues have subsided.

“I think I should be good,” Greinke said. “It didn’t really bother me once the game started, so it didn’t really affect anything once I got loose. I guess it’s going to be similar this time. Nothing too much to worry about.”

If Greinke runs into any trouble, Houston has a fresh Cristian Javier, who has yet to pitch this series despite tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings this postseason.

Greinke has yet to face Tampa Bay this season, as Houston only played teams from the AL and NL West during the 60-game regular season. Still, he feels as though he’s gained an edge from watching Rays hitters this week.

“We haven’t really been able to do scouting reports this year,” Greinke said. “So, nice to be able to see the other team for a little bit to help get prepared for a game.”

Valdez, McCullers and Urquidy have given Greinke plenty of intel to work with. They’ve been excellent, despite only their three losses to show for it.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.