McHugh fires Astros to fourth straight victory
Right-hander logs seven shutout innings, nine strikeouts against KC
KANSAS CITY -- Astros manager Bo Porter took note. So did catcher Jason Castro.
Even the opposition paid homage to Collin McHugh's spellbinding curveball.
The right-hander dazzled over seven shutout innings, striking out nine batters, seven of them via the curveball, as the Astros posted a 3-0 victory over the Royals on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
"He attacked the strike zone, no walks," Porter said. "[I] felt like he did a really great job elevating his fastball and I think that really helped his breaking ball as well."
Plaudits for McHugh's curveball came from all around.
"He had his breaking ball working," Porter said.
Castro categorized it as "outstanding."
McHugh concurred with them, calling it his most effective pitch.
Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer and manager Ned Yost both praised the pitch, and alluded to the fact that McHugh has not allowed a hit on the pitch this season.
They're almost right.
Of the 136 curves McHugh has thrown this season, only one resulted in a base hit, according to Brooksbaseball.net. Opponents are 1-for-30 with 18 strikeouts against his deuce.
"I think my best pitch is always a well-located fastball, but the more you can locate that, the better it makes your offspeed stuff," McHugh said.
McHugh (3-3) allowed just five hits and walked zero. The nine strikeouts are even more impressive considering the Royals strike out less frequently than any other MLB team. Their 283 strikeouts entering Tuesday ranked last in the league.
McHugh's ERA shrunk to 2.80 and his WHIP decreased to 0.98, while he has recorded 50 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings. In Houston's last 22 games since May 5, its starters have compiled a 3.22 ERA.
The Astros, winners of four straight and nine of their last 14, aided their starter with fine defense and timely hitting.
"That there is what you call an extremely well-played Major League baseball game, in all aspect of the game, from pitching to defense to situational hitting to timely hitting," Porter said. "Our guys understood each and every situation that we were in tonight and did a tremendous job of executing."
Matt Dominguez hit an RBI single off Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie in the fourth to open the scoring. Dexter Fowler came around to score after reaching on his MLB-leading 23rd walk this month.
In the eighth, with McHugh watching from the dugout, Houston tacked on a pair of insurance runs. Castro started the rally with a double, before eventually scoring on a wild pitch by Royals reliever Tim Collins.
Later in the inning, Alex Presley lofted a sacrifice fly to left to put Houston ahead 3-0. For the second straight game, Presley collected three hits.
"Presley's done a tremendous job, even when they [weren't] falling, he was hitting the ball hard, it was just right at people," Porter said.
McHugh had little trouble slicing through the punchless Kansas City lineup. While the Royals strike out at an exceptionally low rate, they also have hit an MLB-worst 20 home runs.
The righty imposed his dominance from the opening frame, striking out Omar Infante and Hosmer to end a three-up, three-down inning.
Kansas City posed a pair of threats, the first coming in the second when Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez smacked one-out singles. Lorenzo Cain grounded into a fielder's choice, putting runners at first and third with two outs for Alcides Escobar.
McHugh disposed of him in five pitches, fooling the shortstop with a 73-mph curve in the dirt.
The Royals' only other chance at McHugh came in the fifth, but he defused a two-on, one-out jam by getting Nori Aoki to bounce out to third and Infante to fly out.
With the threat extinguished, McHugh cruised through the sixth and seventh, retiring the last eight batters he faced before handing it off to the bullpen. Tony Sipp and Chad Qualls combined for the final six outs, a perfect two innings of relief.
McHugh deflected praise to Castro.
"I can't give enough credit to Jason, he was calling things what I wouldn't necessarily think of back there in different counts … He had a little bit of a better idea of these guys, and I was just kind of following him, truthfully," McHugh said.
The Astros took a flier on McHugh this offseason, after unquestionably unsuccessful stints in Colorado and New York.
In nine starts between the Mets and Rockies from 2012-13, McHugh went 0-7 with an 8.69 ERA.