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James' start puts Astros near playoff berth

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- If rookie right-hander Josh James wasn't in consideration for a spot on the Astros' postseason roster as a relief pitcher, his performance Tuesday night against the Mariners might have opened a few eyes.

The hard-throwing James held the Mariners scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven batters and allowing four hits and two walks, to pick up his first Major League victory in the Astros' 7-0 win at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON -- If rookie right-hander Josh James wasn't in consideration for a spot on the Astros' postseason roster as a relief pitcher, his performance Tuesday night against the Mariners might have opened a few eyes.

The hard-throwing James held the Mariners scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven batters and allowing four hits and two walks, to pick up his first Major League victory in the Astros' 7-0 win at Minute Maid Park.

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"He had a couple of walks and didn't cave and that's consistently what he's done," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "If he's gotten into trouble, he has not conceded the inning. There's no panic in him. That pays dividends moving forward when we're starting to make decisions. Of course he's factoring in."

Video: SEA@HOU: Hinch on Josh James in win over Mariners

Houston's lead over the second-place A's in the American League West grew to five games after Oakland lost to the Angels on Tuesday night. The Astros reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to two and to clinch the division to seven.

James, making only his second big league start and appearing in his fourth game, fed Seattle a steady diet of fastballs, topping out at 99.9 mph. His velocity and poise make him an intriguing option for October, though the Astros have veteran bullpen depth.

"I'm just happy to be here," James said. "If they feel I'm ready for that, I'm ready for it. It's totally up to the coaching staff and front office, and I'm OK with whatever they decide."

Video: SEA@HOU: James on his changeup in his 1st career win

James threw 49 fastballs, 18 changeups and 20 sliders, getting seven swinging strikes with both his fastball and changeup, which was key against a bottom half of the Mariners lineup that was loaded with lefties.

"My challenge was to keep my ball straight and not let it run back over the plate to the lefties," James said. "[Catcher Brian McCann] did a great job of calling the game. He kind of guided me through it. That was huge."

Video: SEA@HOU: James escapes a 4th-inning jam with a K

Hinch said when James is throwing 100 mph, it defies logic to throw changeups, but the pitch is so effective because of the arm speed and movement.

"We've seen his changeup evolve over his last couple of outings," he said. "His debut, he was really focused on the fastball and just trying to throw it as hard as he could and get through his outing .Tonight we saw a lot of what our development people have told us about how effective his changeup can be."

Hinch gushed about James' work ethic and desire. He was a 34th-round Draft pick in 2014 out of Western Oklahoma State College, making him the first pitcher in franchise history to make a start for the Astros who was drafted that late.

Video: SEA@HOU: James retires Cano to escape jam in the 3rd

"I know he believes in himself," Hinch said. "That, in itself, is important when you get to the big leagues. To be able to go out and stay center-focused on what he wants to do, it's really impressive. Surprised? No. These guys don't get to this level without having some self-confidence. The ability to channel it and harness it and be completely calm on the mound is very impressive, and he can do that because he has a ton of weapons."

The Astros scored four times in the third inning against Mariners starter Mike Leake, capped by a two-run home run by Marwin Gonzalez that was initially ruled a double before being overturned. McCann had an RBI single in the seventh, and Tyler White and Kyle Tucker had RBIs in the eighth.

"I like the at-bats throughout the order, throughout the night," Hinch said.

Video: SEA@HOU: White smacks an RBI double to center field

SOUND SMART
The Astros have gotten consecutive starts of at least five scoreless innings by rookie pitchers for the first time in their history with Framber Valdez on Monday and James on Tuesday.

HE SAID IT
"It's been huge just for my progress as a pitcher. I'm just glad that I got the opportunity to come up this September and contribute." -- James

Tweet from @josh_james63: Hello Twitter, happy to be here. It���s been a long, tough journey to get where I am today. But I am blessed and honored to be pitching for the @astros ! #NeverSettle

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Astros had three calls overturned in their favor on Tuesday, including a crew-chief review of Gonzalez's fly ball off the fence in the third inning. Gonzalez was initially given a double, but the replay showed the ball hit above the yellow for a homer.

Video: SEA@HOU: Gonzalez belts a 2-run home run after review

UP NEXT
Lefty Dallas Keuchel (11-10, 3.57 ERA) will start Wednesday's 7:10 p.m. CT series finale against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park. Keuchel is 8-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 17 starts since June 16. He's second on the Astros with 20 quality starts, which trails only Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber for most in the AL.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh James