Red-hot Altuve (2 HRs) has no-panic Astros back on track

April 14th, 2024

HOUSTON -- The vibe was a little bit different inside the Astros' clubhouse on Sunday afternoon, and certainly not one you’d expect from a team with a 6-11 record. After all, what happened in the first 17 games of the season isn’t as important as what might happen in the next 145 games, which is why Houston is starting to feel it just a little bit.

The Astros have managed to steady the ship and put the deck chairs back in place with consecutive wins over the Rangers, including an 8-5 victory in the series finale at Minute Maid Park, where Houston has won back-to-back games for the first time since last season.

And with ace pitcher Justin Verlander set to join the rotation on Friday for the first time this season and All-Star left-hander Framber Valdez probably not too far behind him, it feels as though the Astros have perhaps weathered 2024’s toughest storm.

“We know what we’re about,” Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña said. “We know what team we have. We know the preparation that goes into every single game. These guys have been at it for a long time, so there’s never panic with them, and if there’s a team that knows how to get it going, there’s this team.”

continued his torrid start by getting three more hits, including a pair of home runs, to back Cristian Javier, who delivered Houston’s second consecutive quality start following a five-game stretch where only one starter got past the fourth inning.

“The offense is coming together and getting big hits and middle relief getting some outs for us, so it feels like we are getting over that hump,” Astros manager Joe Espada said. “We need to continue to build on this, continue to do the small things that we do well. If we do, we’re going to be just fine.”

Altuve clubbed his 36th career leadoff homer to left off Rangers starter Nathan Eovaldi in the first and added another solo shot to left in the third before hitting a single in the seventh. It was Altuve’s second straight three-hit game, raising the three-time batting champion’s batting average to .382.

“It’s impressive how he’s able to get barrel to some tough pitches,” Espada said. “When the pitcher thinks he executed a pitch, Altuve is getting the barrel and hitting the ball out of the ballpark, getting singles. Pretty impressive stuff, what he does.”

Altuve turned on an 0-2 pitch in the first inning off Eovaldi and hit a Statcast-projected 397-foot homer to left field and then cranked a 3-0 pitch into the left-field seats in the third. He has seven career homers off Eovaldi, his most against any pitcher.

“I think the biggest challenge is the fact that he can expand out of the zone so far and then still do damage,” Eovaldi said. “I feel like there's times where I make good pitches, like the first one today. I felt like I located that ball up and in and he was able to get to it. ... That's one of the frustrating parts about today was I felt like I made good pitches at times and they were still able to put the ball in play. And he was obviously the one who did the most damage."

Javier (2-0) held the Rangers to two runs and five hits in seven innings -- his longest start since going seven frames at Seattle on May 5 of last season. He relied mostly on his rising fastball and slider and generated 46 swings, including a combined 37 on those two pitches, and 13 whiffs overall. He threw 62 of 89 pitches for strikes.

“The key to my success was just to try to attack the strike zone, attack the hitters as quickly as possible and try to get outs quickly so I would be able to pitch deep in the game and throw the least amount of pitches,” Javier said.

The Astros improved to 4-3 this year against the Rangers, who eliminated them in the ALCS last year, and will look to keep their momentum with the Braves coming to town.

“We’re just grinding some at-bats with men in scoring position, something we’ve been trying to do better at,” Espada said. “Of course Javier set the tone on the mound with a lot of strikes, worked fast and got some quick outs. And, of course, Altuve. When Jose goes, our offense goes.”