HOUSTON -- As expected, the Astros are giving the ball to veteran right-hander Zack Greinke for Game 1 of Saturday’s American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park against Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees. Justin Verlander will pitch Game 2 on Sunday against James Paxton, and Gerrit Cole will start Game 3 for the Astros against Luis Severino when the series shifts to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday.
“Zack does a really good job of disrupting timing, his delivery, his movement on his pitches, the slow breaking ball, the surprise fastball, all that is the art of pitching, it's how he does it,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I'm not walking on eggshells the days he pitches because he throws 88 to 90 miles an hour. And the other side is not completely comfortable just because the velo is not that insane rate that Gerrit Cole is, or JV.”
One of the reasons Houston acquired Greinke at the Trade Deadline was with an eye on New York, which features a powerful right-handed lineup. Greinke went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros before a forgettable performance in a Game 3 AL Division Series loss to the Rays. He allowed six runs on five hits, including three homers, in 3 2/3 innings.
Greinke faced the Yanks twice this year while still with the D-backs and had a 2.13 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in 12 2/3 innings. The Yankees were still reeling with injuries, so Greinke isn’t putting too much stock in those outings.
“Their whole team was hurt both times that I faced them, pretty much,” he said.
In the ALDS, the Astros went with their preferred order of Verlander in Game 1, Cole in Game 2 and Greinke in Game 3. Hinch decided to bring back Verlander on three days of rest in Game 4, but Verlander didn’t make it out of the fourth inning.
Cole answered the call in Game 5 on Thursday, holding Tampa Bay to two hits and one run while striking out 10 in Houston’s 6-1 series-clinching win. Cole is on one of the most dominant runs of any starting pitcher in recent memory, but the Astros will have to wait until Game 3 to use him.
Appreciation for Cole
While Yankees manager Aaron Boone watched Game 5 of the ALDS on Thursday in anticipation of which team his club would face in the ALCS, he marveled at Cole's work for the Astros.
“I was thinking he looked like he aged out or something. Like, check his birth certificate,” Boone joked. “He's like the kid still pitching in Little League that was a little too good for the league, you know? He's obviously a great pitcher in the prime of his career in a really good stretch right now.
“Anytime you go up against a guy like that, you know, it's hard, but it's also really fun. And especially when you have a team like us that is as good as we are offensively and as confident as those guys are, I think they'll look forward to that challenge and hopefully be able to, when you do get that mistake, hopefully you're able to take advantage of it, because you know those are going to be few and far between.”
Cole faced the Yankees once this year, allowing three runs and seven hits while striking out six on April 9 in Houston. That was before he became unbeatable in May. He’s 18-0 with a 1.66 ERA in his past 24 starts, striking out 251 batters in 162 innings (13.92 strikeouts per nine innings).
It's common for Hinch and Cole to sit at Hinch's perch in the dugout and talk about the starter's outing once it's finished, so in that respect, the sight of the two huddled together following Cole's eight-inning masterpiece Thursday was nothing out of the ordinary.
But this one was a little different, in that Hinch had his arm wrapped snugly around Cole's shoulder while the two talked. It was a little warmer version of their normal chats, which is understandable given the magnitude of the game and Cole's role in the Astros topping the Rays.
The intimacy of the moment was caught by television cameras, which stayed on the manager and pitcher for an extensive period of time.
"I wanted to tell him how I was proud of him in how he stepped up in that game," Hinch said. "It's just a part of Gerrit's starts that I cherish. When he comes out of the game, we're usually winning and he's usually pitched extremely well. He loves to talk baseball and about sequences in the game. I usually don't get caught on camera having that conversation, but it was fun for me."
Hinch said rookie outfielder Kyle Tucker is also likely to get a start in the ALCS, the way he did in Game 2 of the ALDS when he started in place of Reddick in right field. Reddick went 1-for-10 in the ALDS with a walk, five strikeouts and a bloop hit in Game 5 on Thursday, and Tucker went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a walk.
Díaz, who was limited to 57 games because of injuries, started three games in left field in the regular season.
Roof closed Saturday
The Astros announced on Friday that the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park would be closed for Game 1 of the ALCS. The club said a determination would be made on Sunday about the status of the roof for Game 2.
In 84 games at Minute Maid Park this season, including the playoffs, the roof was open only seven times. The roof is typically open throughout April and into May as summer heat rises, but it’s no secret that the Astros prefer to keep it closed in the postseason to control the environment and help with crowd noise.
Start times announced
Major League Baseball announced the remainder of the start times for the ALCS, with the Astros and Yankees set to meet in Games 1 and 2 at 7:07 p.m. CT.
Game 3 at Yankee Stadium will be at 3:08 p.m. CT Tuesday, with Game 4 on Wednesday and Game 5 (if necessary) on Thursday both scheduled for 7:08 p.m. CT. Game 6 on Oct. 19 in Houston would be played at either 3:08 p.m. CT (if there’s a Game 7 in the National League Championship Series) or 7:08 p.m. CT if that series is over.
Game 7 (if necessary) would be set for 6:38 p.m. CT on Oct. 20 in Houston.