Astros turn quirky outing into gritty win over White Sox

April 1st, 2023

HOUSTON -- The Astros were without three key relievers on a day when their starting pitcher only threw four innings. The lineup managed only one extra-base hit and the starter gave up a pair of homers. That sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it was enough to beat the White Sox, 6-4, on Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

So how did they do it? Let’s look at three key takeaways from the Astros’ second-consecutive win after they dropped Thursday’s season opener:

1. Bullpen to the rescue

Astros starter needed 82 pitches to get through four innings, giving up three runs and seven hits. That included a solo homer by Yoán Moncada in the second and a two-run homer by Seby Zavala in the fourth that put the White Sox ahead, 3-2. Relievers (two innings), (1 2/3) and Hector Neris (1 1/3) covered the final five innings, allowing one run.

“Urquidy threw the ball well, other than the two home runs -- one of them went in the first row of the Crawford Boxes,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We knew we had to keep an eye on him especially after he had a 30-pitch plus [third] inning, which is the equivalent to two innings. He kept us in the ballgame and Blanco could have given us another inning, but at that time we thought he had done enough.”

The Astros were without high-leverage relievers and , both of whom had thrown in the previous two games, and All-Star closer , who was “under the weather,” according to Baker. Stanek, who didn’t pitch in the first two games, matched his 2022 season high by recording five outs.

“It’s early in the year, and as a guy in the bullpen in these situations, it may not be what you do for the majority of the season. But you’ve got to kind of do these things when pitch counts are limited in the beginning of the year and you’re trying to work through some things and not crush anybody,” Stanek said. “I was excited to get in there and be a part of it again.”

Baker said Pressly was sick and wasn’t available on Friday or Saturday.

“Hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow,” said Baker.

2. McCormick steps up

Center fielder , the World Series hero whose game-saving catch in Game 5 in Philadelphia helped the Astros win the championship last fall, made his first start of the season and went 1-for-2 with two walks and an RBI. started the first two games in center, going 0-for-6 with four strikeouts and a walk.

“I felt great,” McCormick said. “I was excited to play today. We got the win today and it was awesome. I felt good today at the plate, laying off some sinkers inside and putting some good swings on balls and getting a walk and an RBI. It felt good to play.”

The playing time between McCormick and Meyers figures to be a storyline as the season unfolds. McCormick will start again in Sunday’s series finale and look to capitalize on momentum.

“I told [McCormick] before we started the first game, I said, ‘You’ll be in there in game three and game four and we’ll go from there,’” Baker said. “I liked the fastball matchups with Meyers. It didn’t work, but all you can do is try to match up guys the best you can.”

3. So long, shift

Everyone expected Astros left-handed sluggers and to benefit from the restrictions to defensive shifts this year, and both appeared to get a hit from it on Saturday. Of the Astros’ 11 hits, 10 of them were singles, including a few through defensive holes.

“A couple of hits, it definitely helped out,” Tucker said. “We’ll see how it plays out the rest of the series and rest of the season. I probably got a hit off of it today and there was probably one or two other ones.”

Alvarez’s first-inning single off Lucas Giolito was an 82.1 mph soft liner off the bat that went between first and second and probably would have been fielded in shallow right field last year. Two batters later, Tucker’s RBI single to right was a 79.9 mph roller through the same spot that scored from second base.

“At first I thought I was out and then I looked and was like, ‘Oh, sweet,’” Tucker said. “It was nice to get that one through.”