Astros still chasing first after latest loss to Boston

August 24th, 2023

HOUSTON -- The Astros, who have won five of the past six American League West titles, have yet to spend one day in first place in the division at any point in 2023. Houston has been in chase mode for the entire season, trying to run down their in-state rivals, the Texas Rangers.

With the Rangers mired in a six-game losing streak and idle on Wednesday, the Astros had their eyes on a return to first place, or at least a tie atop the division. The Red Sox messed up those plans, using a three-run homer from Adam Duvall in the 10th inning off Kendall Graveman to beat the Astros, 7-5, at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros (72-56) are one game behind the Rangers (72-54) and half a game ahead of the third-place Mariners (71-56).

“It’s a little disappointing, but sometimes you can’t always get what you want at that point in time,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We’re still right there. … You’ve just gotta keep fighting.”

Here are three takeaways from the loss:

Diaz stays hot
Rookie  continues to emerge as an offensive force. He went 3-for-5 with an RBI single in the 10th inning Wednesday, extending his career-high hitting streak to seven games. He’s hitting .387 (12-for-31) during the streak and has multiple hits in four of his past six games.

“He’s using the whole field,” Baker said. “For a young hitter, most of the time, he’s hitting the ball where it’s pitched. He’s doing his thing.”

Diaz is slashing .286/.302/.541 with 18 homers and 46 RBIs in 298 plate appearances while splitting time between catcher (31 starts), designated hitter (30 starts) and first base (seven starts). Earlier Wednesday, Baker called him “the catcher of the future,” but said he has to bide his time this year behind veteran starter Martín Maldonado.

“His bat is what got him to the big leagues really,” Baker said. “In one year he went from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues, and how much time did you have to learn your skill? The last time a team won the pennant with a rookie catcher was Buster Posey [of the Giants]. But Buster was the Johnny Bench Player of the Year [in college]. It’s a totally different scenario and a totally different pathway.

“I know everybody wants him to play every day. But it’s tough when you’ve got to learn. It’s much like a young quarterback. How many young quarterbacks come in and just take over right away? The way we’ve handled it, the way I’ve handled it, he’ll thank me, the city will thank me and the organization will thank me later.”

Urquidy stretched to 100 pitches
In his third start since he missed three months on the injured list with shoulder discomfort, Astros right-hander  threw a season-high 100 pitches and said he felt physically strong, which was a silver lining in an otherwise uneven outing.

“Physically, I’m 100 percent good,” said Urquidy, who was starting for the first time since Aug. 13 after he threw two innings in relief Friday.

Urquidy breezed through two innings Wednesday, allowing one hit before struggling to keep runners off base. He gave up four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings and left with two outs in the fifth and one runner in scoring position. Seth Martinez got the final out of the fifth.

“He was pretty good,” Baker said of Urquidy. “He had a couple of untimely walks and he’s still rusty. We were trying to stretch him out as far as we could because of the condition of our bullpen.”

Bullpen overload
Baker was already concerned about the heavy workload his bullpen has endured during this stretch of 13 consecutive games without a day off, and Wednesday’s game only exacerbated that. Five relievers had to cover 5 1/3 innings, with Graveman throwing in back-to-back games.

Houston’s bullpen has covered 25 2/3 innings while starters have thrown 29 1/3 innings during the first six games of the 13-game stretch, which means the Astros desperately need rookie right-hander J.P. France to get deep into Thursday’s series finale.

“We need it,” Baker said. “We were upside down today. Graveman is out there for the second day in a row, [Ryan] Pressly is three out of five. We tried to stay away from [Ryne] Stanek and [Rafael] Montero today. During this streak, we got upside down early. We had a couple of short outings, which puts pressure on my bullpen. We’re at the drawing board now figuring out what we’re going to do.”