Blanco's brilliance, big hits revive Astros in emphatic fashion

April 14th, 2024

HOUSTON -- For a team that was in desperate need of a win, the Astros couldn’t have scripted it much better than they did Saturday afternoon. All it took was another solid start from , some much-needed clutch hitting and some big outs from the bullpen to beat the Rangers, 9-2, at Minute Maid Park.

Astros manager Joe Espada called it one of the team’s better all-around wins, not that there has been that many to choose from during a disappointing 5-11 start. The Astros, who snapped a four-game losing streak, are looking for something to grab onto, a spark to help propel them back towards the .500 mark. Perhaps this was it.

“We’ve been struggling and all that, but we’ve just been doing some adjustments and the results, you can see it,” relief pitcher Bryan Abreu said.

Here are three takeaways from the Astros’ Lone Star Series win.

Blanco rolls on
Blanco, who began the season with a no-hitter against the Blue Jays and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Rangers in his second outing, delivered his third quality start by holding the Rangers to two runs and five hits in six innings. He’s started three of Houston’s five wins.

Blanco recorded two quick outs in the first before allowing two walks, both of which came around to score. That was the only damage he allowed, as he settled in and gave the Astros the length from a starting pitcher they needed. Blanco (0.86 ERA) is the first Astros pitcher since Gerrit Cole in 2019 to begin the season with three quality starts.

“He’s confident, he goes after hitters, he throws strikes, he’s efficient,” Espada said. “That’s exactly what you need to do as a starter -- give your defense an opportunity and keep your defense on its toes to make plays. When you do that, you find yourself getting quick outs because you’re deep into games.”

Finally, some clutch hits
The Astros were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-3 with the bases loaded, before Kyle Tucker greeted reliever Jacob Latz in the fourth with an RBI double that tied the game at 2. Houston stranded 11 runners through six innings before sending 11 batters to the plate in the seventh and scoring seven runs to break it open.

“That was great,” Espada said. “That’s the offense that I’m used to seeing. When we get pitchers against the ropes, we’ve got to put them away and that’s exactly what we did. We put up some really good at-bats.”

A pinch-hit, bases-loaded RBI single by Victor Caratini put the Astros ahead, and Jose Altuve and Tucker both added bases-loaded, two-run doubles in the inning to stretch the lead.

“Every time you put up an inning like that one, it makes you think we’ve got to do more like those,” said Altuve, who has reached base safely in a career-high 16 straight games to start a season. “It feels good, but I think we did it at the right time to start flipping things around and start winning games.”

Altuve (3-for-5), Yordan Alvarez (2-for-3) and Tucker (2-for-3) went 7-for-11 atop the lineup for the Astros, who began the day leading the American League in hits. They tacked on 14 more to snap the Rangers’ six-game winning streak in Houston, which included the postseason.

“He’s so good when the game is on the line, but he also understands that hitting behind Yordan, he’s going to have to step up and have big ABs like that,” Espada said of Tucker. “What happened today [Alvarez getting on base four times] is going to happen often and he’s going to get some good pitches to hit. When you do, he’s been able to come through.”

Bullpen comes through
The Astros’ bullpen, which had allowed four runs in each of the past three games, combined for three scoreless innings with Abreu, Rafael Montero and Shawn Dubin putting up zeros. More importantly, the Astros were able to rest some of their key arms, including Josh Hader, Ryan Pressly and Seth Martinez.

With the game still tied at 2 in the seventh, Abreu gave up a single to Jonah Heim, a double to Marcus Semien and then walked Corey Seager to load the bases for Evan Carter. Abreu struck him out looking for one of Houston’s biggest relief outs of the season.

“You just stay calm and take it pitch by pitch,” Abreu said. “That’s probably the main key when we have that kind of situation. We’re getting there.”