Harrell impresses, but win streak comes to a close
Righty delivers best start so far but bats grounded by Orioles' Tillman
HOUSTON -- Astros starting pitcher Lucas Harrell didn't get to experience his teammates' red-eye flight from the West Coast early Tuesday morning -- a trek that proved to be not as much of a nuisance for a team coming off a 6-0 road trip.
Harrell flew home a day earlier to make sure he was rested, sharp and ready for the Orioles, who feature one of the hottest hitters in the game in first baseman Chris Davis and one of the most dangerous offenses in baseball.
The right-hander did his part by allowing five hits and one earned run in seven of his strongest innings of the season, but the Orioles rode the pitching of Chris Tillman and took advantage of some shaky defense to snap the Astros' six-game winning streak with a 4-1 win at Minute Maid Park.
"It's just one of those days you have to battle, and the team battled," Harrell said. "They're coming off a night where I got to come early and they got in late, so guys are running on fumes a little bit, but they fought hard."
Harrell deserved a better fate than his fourth loss in his last five starts. He struck out six batters and didn't walk a batter for the first time in 13 starts this year, and the only earned run he allowed came on a solo homer to No. 9-hole hitter Danny Valencia in the third inning.
The Orioles took a 2-0 lead later in the inning, thanks to an error by first baseman Chris Carter. With two outs and a runner at third base, Adam Jones hit a routine grounder to Carter, who allowed the ball to roll past his glove as Manny Machado trotted home.
Harrell retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced following the error, including the last 10.
"Lucas was outstanding," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "Defensively, we let him down there. He could have left the game with a 1-1 tie, but unfortunately we couldn't make a very pivotal play that would have ended the inning and [allowed the Orioles to score their] second run. But Lucas did a great job of battling and pitching to contact. He looked like the Lucas Harrell we all expect to see."
Tillman held the Astros to one hit and three walks through five scoreless innings. Brandon Barnes, who led off the game with a single, blasted a long home run in the sixth inning to cut the lead to 2-1.
"Any time one of our pitchers goes out and pitches a good game and just kind of does what he needs to do and for us to come up short, that's tough for us to handle," Barnes said.
Barnes also made a spectacular diving catch in the eighth inning, running down a Machado fly ball in the gap in right-center field. He did his best defensively to match the Orioles' Gold Glove center fielder Jones, who made a pair of nice running catches onto Tal's Hill.
"The thing about the hill is it starts at 410 feet away, so you got to really get it now," Jones said. "The first ball back, I was a lot closer to it. I got a lot of ground here that I got to cover. But Tillman went out there and kept me on my toes, kept the whole defense on our toes. That's what happens when your pitcher goes out there and throws strikes. Good plays happen."
Despite the loss, Harrell has two positive starts under his belt after being rocked for six runs in 1 2/3 innings May 25 against the A's. For Harrell, it was about getting in a rhythm and simply throwing strikes.
"In my last couple of bullpens, I've been having it where the catcher sets up down the middle with all my pitches and we're trying to throw them over the plate," he said. "If you throw them down the middle, you can hit on the edges, too. I feel like that's helped my control a little bit, and I felt I got back to what I was doing last year, staying tall a little bit more and throwing the ball downhill."
In the eighth, Nate McLouth scored an unearned run against Wesley Wright when he singled and stole second and third, and then scored on an errant throw by catcher Jason Castro. Ryan Flaherty's RBI single in the ninth off Josh Fields made it 4-1.
Porter said he remains confident in the defensive abilities of Carter, who made only his third error of the season at first base. Carlos Pena is a more polished first baseman, but Porter would rather start Carter at first in case he has to move him to another defensive spot later (the Astros are carrying only 12 position players).
"You watch Carter pick balls over there, and he's a pretty good first baseman in his own right," Porter said. "Tonight, it's unfortunate that he made the error. Moving forward, it's not something that is a concern as far as him not playing first base. You look at our roster, and we're short one position player. He is a guy that can move to the outfield if we had a need or something happened when we needed to make that decision."