HOUSTON -- Consistently falling behind hitters and having trouble commanding his fastball spelled doom for Astros starter Collin McHugh, who was rocked for eight runs and seven hits over three-plus innings in a 12-2 loss to the Royals on Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park.
McHugh’s clunker, which included a grand slam to Ryan O’Hearn to cap a five-run third inning for Kansas City, was the latest in a frustrating stretch for the veteran right-hander. After going 3-1 with a 1.96 ERA in four starts to start the season, he is 0-3 with a 12.00 ERA in his last four starts.
“Let’s call it what it is: I’ve been pretty bad,” McHugh said. “Pretty bad rough month of starts for me, but I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I don’t think that does you any good in this game. Nobody else is going to feel sorry for you. It’s just a matter of going out and getting better -- getting a little bit better tomorrow, a little bit better the next day and executing pitches on a daily basis when you get out there. Other than that, there's not a whole lot to say.”
McHugh (3-4, 6.37 ERA) cruised through the first inning with a pair of strikeouts before Jorge Soler hit a 435-foot homer to straightaway center field in the second. The second time through the batting order was a nightmare for McHugh, who allowed a triple, a double and a pair of walks before O’Hearn hit a first-pitch grand slam to right field for a 6-0 lead.
“A couple of walks in there that hurt him and the big swing by the young kid, O’Hearn,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “It seemed like he had a hard time getting out of counts and finishing at-bats, and O’Hearn was a first-pitch fastball. Ugly night for [McHugh].”
The starting pitching after Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley has been hit or miss, but there’s not a whole lot the Astros appear to be able to do at this point to bring more stability. Framber Valdez, who competed for a rotation spot in spring camp, gave up a grand slam to Whit Merrifield in the seventh and he now has a 4.91 ERA.
“All of them have had a rough start, and when that happens, if you can just control the damage a little bit,” Hinch said. “I sent [McHugh] out there his last inning to try to steal an inning or two while his pitch count was still relatively low to help for tomorrow and the next day, and next day. Those games hurt today because nobody likes getting their teeth kicked in. It hurts further because it cuts into your ‘pen and you start using everybody. It’s concerning because we got to try to figure it out to get him right and get him back to being effective.”
Royals starter Danny Duffy gave up two runs in 6 2/3 innings, including a solo homer in the sixth by Alex Bregman -- his 10th of the season and fifth in the last five games. Bregman is well ahead of last season’s pace in which he hit 31 homers. At this time last year, he had just two homers.
With the Astros down 10 runs in the ninth inning, Hinch summoned infielder Tyler White, who was serving as the designated hitter, to the mound for the Houston position-player pitching appearance. White got the job done, too, throwing a hitless frame that included his first career strikeout as he got Chris Owings looking.
It was the third career pitching appearance for White, but his first without giving up a run. He was the first Astros position player to pitch since J.D. Davis on July 22, 2018, and in the bottom of the ninth inning, White became the first Astros pitcher to have a plate appearance at Minute Maid Park since Bud Norris on Sept. 26, 2012 -- Houston’s last season in the National League.
“I was trying to throw strikes and get through the inning as fast as possible,” said White, who warmed up his arm in the batting cage the inning before. “It’s always cool to get the job done, I guess, even though it’s something I’m not used to doing.”