Bullpen woes continue for Astros vs. Rangers
Peacock allows just one run in start, but leaves with no-decision
HOUSTON -- On the first at-bat after Houston starter Brad Peacock left the game, the Rangers' Jurickson Profar broke his bat on a routine ground ball and Astros shortstop Jake Elmore let Profar off the hook by bobbling it for an error.
Following two weeks of bullpen futility, the play marked the all-too-familiar sight of another Astros lead shattering.
Indeed, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus launched a game-tying homer off Kevin Chapman later in the seventh inning, and the Rangers overtook the Astros with two eighth-inning runs to escape with a 5-4 win on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros have blown a save in three straight games and seven of their last eight opportunities since trading closer Jose Veras on July 29.
Andrus stepped up to the plate in the seventh with 452 at-bats in 2013 and no home runs, the most by any player in the Majors without a long ball this season. He crossed it moments later with his first, a two-run shot.
"I was just out there trying to attack hitters and get ahead of them," said Chapman, who was making his second Major League appearance. "Give Andrus credit. I made made a good pitch and he put the barrel to it."
Instead of immediately buckling under the horror of another blown advantage, the Astros responded to Andrus' homer by manufacturing a run in the bottom of the frame to move ahead, 4-3, when Brandon Barnes scored on a wild pitch.
Like so many Houston leads of late, it wasn't safe. A.J. Pierzynski doubled off Lucas Harrell with one out in the eighth, and his pinch-runner, Engel Beltre, scored the tying run on Alex Rios' triple.
The Astros then drew the infield in, and Jose Altuve perfectly played a Mitch Moreland ground ball to nail Rios at home. Except the ball escaped catcher Jason Castro's clutches during the tag, erasing the out and proving the difference in the game.
"It was a good play, [Castro] caught the ball and put the tag on him, but just the momentum of the contact dislodged the ball," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Good slide by their guy. Everything clean about it. We were just not able to hold onto the ball."
Though the warning signs were showing well before then, Veras' trade two weeks ago has escalated Houston's bullpen issues. It's all come to a head during this week's homestand.
Over the last four games, the bullpen has blown four save opportunities and has a 12.51 ERA. In 13 2/3 innings, it's allowed 19 earned runs, 20 hits, five homers and walked 14 batters.
This time, though, the defense was also at least a co-contributor to Houston's demise.
In addition to Elmore's error and Castro's drop, Rios was only in position to score from third in the eighth because Barnes made a questionable dive in center that likely stretched what would have been just single to a triple.
"You can say that," Porter said, when asked whether defense cost the Astros. "You look at even Chapman's [seventh] inning, if you take away the error to lead off the inning it's a 1-2-3 inning and we come in here and hit and the inning's over. That was not the case, and when you give a team extra outs, especially a team that has a good offense like the Rangers, you put yourself at more risk of giving up runs."
The combination of relief pitchers providing no relief and defensive gaffes meant another game, another frustrated starter for Houston, as Peacock got a no-decision despite allowing just one run over six innings.
Pierzynski's sixth-inning homer was the only blemish on his line, and the righty deftly maneuvered out of jams to strand five runners combined in the third and fourth frames.
"A little wild there in those couple of innings, and Castro talked to me and settled me down, which is what I did in the last couple of innings," Peacock said.
Making his second start since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City last week, the righty continued a strong run of outings for Houston rookies in the rotation.
"Peacock was very good," said Texas manager Ron Washington. "His record may not say it, but the guy can pitch. He's got good stuff and he threw the ball well against us."
Outings like Peacock's haven't translated to the win column, though, as a 3.56 ERA for Astros starters in the last 12 games has meant only more late-inning anguish during a 2-10 team swoon.
Despite Peacock being the latest starting victim of the Astros' bullpen, the rookie righty pitched in Houston's bullpen earlier this year and said he knows how tough the role is.
"It's definitely hard," Peacock said. "[Chapman] came in and that was a good pitch he made. Andrus just hit it well. I get that, and it's hard to fault guys for it."
The Astros' offense again did just enough to supply another late lead, using Altuve's RBI double in the third, Chris Carter's fourth-inning solo shot and Matt Dominguez's sacrifice fly in the sixth to send Peacock off with a 3-1 lead.
Carter's dinger was just his third hit in a 32 at-bat span and only his second home run since the All-Star break. It did give him 20 homers for the season, making him the first Astro to reach that mark since Hunter Pence (25) and Carlos Lee (24) belted that many in 2010.
Castro was a part of two of those scoring innings, going 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 10 games.
Harrell took his fourth loss in seven appearances since being demoted to the bullpen a month ago.
With the loss, Houston dropped to 2-9 both at home since the All-Star break and on the season against the Rangers, who jumped back into first place in the American League West with the win.