Bielak's career day just what the doctor ordered for Astros

July 5th, 2023

HOUSTON -- With a taxed bullpen following a 10-game road trip, Houston needed to go deep into Tuesday’s game against the Rockies at Minute Maid Park.

The right-hander delivered.

Bielak, who was recalled from Triple-A Sugar Land Monday, threw a career-high seven scoreless innings, while scattering two hits in the Astros’ 4-1 win over Colorado. Houston won for the sixth time in its last seven games and for the sixth straight year on July 4. Bielak (4-4) was superb despite striking out only four and walking four.

“I know the bullpen was a little short today,” Bielak said. “I gave everything I had. I think it was the tenth day of no pitching for me, so I [felt pretty good] out there strength wise.”

Most importantly, he gave Houston innings, which were needed after Astros starters failed to get out of the fifth in the prior two games, and Houston’s bullpen was asked to cover 9 2/3 innings over that span.

“We needed it badly because our whole bullpen was down after the Texas series,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “You play a tough four-game series like that. It’s kind of all hands on deck, and our guys have gone two days in a row, some two out of three, so we needed it badly. He gave us everything that we needed.”

Bielak mixed up his pitches well, throwing an almost even mix of his four pitches. He threw 32 four-seam fastballs, 24 changeups, 19 sinkers and 21 curveballs.

He sat consistently in the low-90s on his fastball and sinker, and he was able to get a lot of weak contact, with Colorado only hitting two balls that had an exit velocity over 100 mph.

“I trusted [catcher Yainer] Diaz back there,” Bielak said. “I started landing some curveballs in the zone, so they had to respect that more than they did in the first inning. Great defense, too.”

Bielak retired eight out of nine at one point and sat down the last eight Rockies he faced. The Rockies’ lone singles -- and only threats -- off Bielak came in the first and fourth, but the right-hander was able to get groundouts to end both innings and strand runners at third.

In each of his previous two Major League starts, Bielak had surrendered five runs. He yielded two runs in six innings in his lone Minor League start on June 24 before being recalled.

Bielak’s outing was also needed because the Astros were down another player after Jose Altuve was scratched 90 minutes prior to first pitch with left oblique discomfort. Baker said Altuve suffered the injury during pregame batting practice. The Astros said imaging had not been done on Altuve on Tuesday.

“We don’t know anything right now,” Baker said. “We have to wait until tomorrow.”

Houston’s offense was able to come through in Altuve’s absence.

“It’s tough to take, but you have to move on,” Baker said. “You have no choice. You feel terrible, especially for the injured player and the team, but you have no choice. What choice do you have other than ‘Hey man, next man up.’ These guys have done a pretty remarkable job of next man up.”

Grae Kessinger, who had two hits, put the Astros ahead 1-0 in the third with his first career home run, a 397-foot solo shot to left-center field.

Kessinger became the third generation of his family to hit a home run in a Major League game, joining his grandfather, Don Kessinger and his uncle, Keith Kessinger.

“Curveball up in the zone, I just didn’t want to do too much,” Kessinger said. “I got a barrel on it, was able to elevate it and got to enjoy it.”

The Astros added two runs in the fifth on a Mauricio Dubón RBI triple to right, and Corey Julks' RBI single up the middle. Julks was not in the original lineup but was inserted after Altuve was scratched. He finished with a career-high four hits.

Chas McCormick continued his hot hitting with an RBI single in the seventh to increase the lead to 4-0.

“That’s what they’re here for,” Baker said of Kessinger and Julks’ performances. “They’re not here to paint, they’re here to play and to perform. I’m giving them all a chance because we need them. We need them, and they need to play well.”