James' start puts Astros near playoff berth

September 19th, 2018

HOUSTON -- If rookie right-hander Josh James wasn't in consideration for a spot on the Astros' postseason roster as a relief pitcher, his performance Tuesday night against the Mariners might have opened a few eyes.

The hard-throwing James held the Mariners scoreless for 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven batters and allowing four hits and two walks, to pick up his first Major League victory in the Astros' 7-0 win at Minute Maid Park.

"He had a couple of walks and didn't cave and that's consistently what he's done," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "If he's gotten into trouble, he has not conceded the inning. There's no panic in him. That pays dividends moving forward when we're starting to make decisions. Of course he's factoring in."

Houston's lead over the second-place A's in the American League West grew to five games after Oakland lost to the Angels on Tuesday night. The Astros reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to two and to clinch the division to seven.

James, making only his second big league start and appearing in his fourth game, fed Seattle a steady diet of fastballs, topping out at 99.9 mph. His velocity and poise make him an intriguing option for October, though the Astros have veteran bullpen depth.

"I'm just happy to be here," James said. "If they feel I'm ready for that, I'm ready for it. It's totally up to the coaching staff and front office, and I'm OK with whatever they decide."

James threw 49 fastballs, 18 changeups and 20 sliders, getting seven swinging strikes with both his fastball and changeup, which was key against a bottom half of the Mariners lineup that was loaded with lefties.

"My challenge was to keep my ball straight and not let it run back over the plate to the lefties," James said. "[Catcher ] did a great job of calling the game. He kind of guided me through it. That was huge."

Hinch said when James is throwing 100 mph, it defies logic to throw changeups, but the pitch is so effective because of the arm speed and movement.

"We've seen his changeup evolve over his last couple of outings," he said. "His debut, he was really focused on the fastball and just trying to throw it as hard as he could and get through his outing .Tonight we saw a lot of what our development people have told us about how effective his changeup can be."

Hinch gushed about James' work ethic and desire. He was a 34th-round Draft pick in 2014 out of Western Oklahoma State College, making him the first pitcher in franchise history to make a start for the Astros who was drafted that late.

"I know he believes in himself," Hinch said. "That, in itself, is important when you get to the big leagues. To be able to go out and stay center-focused on what he wants to do, it's really impressive. Surprised? No. These guys don't get to this level without having some self-confidence. The ability to channel it and harness it and be completely calm on the mound is very impressive, and he can do that because he has a ton of weapons."

The Astros scored four times in the third inning against Mariners starter Mike Leake, capped by a two-run home run by that was initially ruled a double before being overturned. McCann had an RBI single in the seventh, and and had RBIs in the eighth.

"I like the at-bats throughout the order, throughout the night," Hinch said.


The Astros have gotten consecutive starts of at least five scoreless innings by rookie pitchers for the first time in their history with on Monday and James on Tuesday.


"It's been huge just for my progress as a pitcher. I'm just glad that I got the opportunity to come up this September and contribute." -- James


The Astros had three calls overturned in their favor on Tuesday, including a crew-chief review of Gonzalez's fly ball off the fence in the third inning. Gonzalez was initially given a double, but the replay showed the ball hit above the yellow for a homer.


Lefty (11-10, 3.57 ERA) will start Wednesday's 7:10 p.m. CT series finale against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park. Keuchel is 8-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 17 starts since June 16. He's second on the Astros with 20 quality starts, which trails only and for most in the AL.