Lack of run support dims France's 3rd straight quality start

June 17th, 2023

HOUSTON -- The Astros didn’t score a run until the ninth inning for the second consecutive game Friday night at Minute Maid Park. By that time, starting pitcher had been gone from the mound for a couple of innings after delivering his third consecutive quality start.

The lack of run support is nothing new for France -- the Astros have averaged 2.85 runs per game in his eight starts this year -- and it’s becoming a growing issue for a Houston club that desperately misses injured slugger Yordan Alvarez. The Reds pushed a pair of runs across in the seventh inning against France to beat the Astros, 2-1, in the series opener.

“It is what it is,” France said. “As a pitcher, you can’t control any of that. You’ve just got to go out there and do your job and give your team a chance to win and hopefully get five, six, seven, eight innings. Sometimes I’ll have the boys’ back, sometimes the boys will have my back. That’s how it works.”

The Astros have scored two runs in their last 19 innings after a 4-1 loss in 10 innings to the Nationals on Thursday and Friday’s loss to the Reds. Houston has dropped seven of its last 10 games to fall into a virtual tie for second place in the American League West with the Angels. 

“It seems like when guys go cold, a lot of people go cold,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “It’s not that easy to hit. These guys make it look easy to hit. When you're cold and not swinging the bats, everybody knows it. We know it. Guys are doing the best of their ability at this time, and you’ve got to keep fighting and fighting and hope our pitching stays the same until our offense picks up.”

Reds lefty starter Andrew Abbott held the Astros to four hits and two walks in six innings, becoming the first Major League pitcher since 1893 to begin a career with three consecutive scoreless starts of at least five innings. The top three hitters in the Astros' order were 0-for-12.

“There’s guys hitting the ball hard, just not lucky,” said. “[José] Abreu hit a couple of balls hard. There were a lot of guys hitting the ball hard. It’s baseball … one of those days.”

France is the first Astros rookie to throw at least three quality starts in a row since Chris Sampson, who did it in five consecutive starts in 2007. He lowered his ERA to 3.42 and his WHIP to 1.20 in the first 47 1/3 innings of his career.

“We tried to take him as far as we can take him,” Baker said. “We didn’t have [Hector] Neris. We didn't have [Ryan] Pressly. We didn’t have [Ryne] Stanek, who just got back off bereavement. You hate for him to get the loss because he was throwing the ball excellent.”

France was pleased with his body of work, especially his cutter.

France said he was getting his hand around the cutter a little bit too much, and it was starting to blend with his slider, so he made tweaks. The right-hander put a little more pressure between his middle finger and thumb to help him stay behind the ball better. 

“My cutter was back today where it needed to be,” he said. “I think it was 86-90 [mph]. Changeup was really good -- slider, curve, heater. Everything was working today. Had great plays behind me again, just like last outing. I can’t brag on the defense enough, but at the end of the day had a backup slider that [was] hit. As soon as it came out of my hand, I knew it wasn’t going to be the best one I’ve thrown.”

The backup slider was thrown with one out in the seventh inning on a 2-2 count to Tyler Stephenson, who launched it into the Crawford Boxes for the game’s first run. France walked the next batter and was pulled one out later after an RBI double by Kevin Newman made it 2-0.

“We’ve been in all these games -- one hit away from winning a game,” Baker said. “We need a couple of big innings and right now we’re out of sync. It seems like when you pitch well, we don’t hit. And when we hit, we don’t pitch well. You can’t just order it up. You wish you could. You have to fight through this. Simple.”