Garcia dominant as Astros shut out 'the best team right now'

April 26th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Luis Garcia didn’t know how many cutters he threw in his start on Tuesday night until he got back to the visitors’ clubhouse at Tropicana Field following the Astros’ 5-0 victory over the Rays.

The final tally: 97 pitches, 45 cutters

“Oh my God, that’s a lot,” a surprised Garcia exclaimed.

“But I think it works,” he added.

Everything worked like a charm for Garcia, who built upon his impressive outing against Toronto last Wednesday with something even better: shutting down the best team in the Major Leagues over six dominant innings.

With the victory, Houston snapped Tampa Bay’s historic 14-game home win streak to open the season.

“Yeah, that was really a good outing, because they are the best team right now in the league,” Garcia said of the Rays. “I’m just happy to win.”

Garcia and catcher Martín Maldonado said they didn’t have a special plan to beat the team that leads the big leagues in runs scored, OPS and myriad other offensive categories. They didn’t need one; Garcia’s strength -- that cutter -- could be used to exploit a weakness.

The Rays, for all of their success at the plate, entered Tuesday’s game ranked in the bottom five in MLB in OPS, wOBA and strikeout rate vs. cutters. That history held true as Garcia limited Tampa Bay to just two hits in 10 at-bats that ended on his top pitch. Those included three strikeouts and a handful of weak outs.

Garcia gave up only two hard-hit balls and three hits, struck out seven batters and permitted just one baserunner to advance past second base over his six innings.

“Garcia was great, especially against a hot team and a very good offensive team,” manager Dusty Baker said. “... He had command of every pitch. He was very good. We needed it.”

After beginning the season with three relatively rough starts, Garcia has thrown 13 scoreless innings over his past two turns. That stretch includes only five hits allowed, three walks and 16 strikeouts.

“I felt good in both of them,” Garcia said. “I’m just going to keep trying to do my job.”

The Astros’ lineup would eventually support its starter, erupting for five runs in the fifth inning, which included four doubles off Rays starter Drew Rasmussen. Entering that frame, Rasmussen had allowed three extra-base hits in 26 1/3 innings this season. It was also the most runs allowed by Tampa Bay in any inning this season.

Jeremy Peña, José Abreu and Corey Julks each had a run-scoring double in the inning, while Kyle Tucker and Jake Meyers added RBI singles.

Three balls came off of Peña’s bat at an exit velocity of more than 100 mph Tuesday, one night after he blasted a 432-foot homer at 107.6 mph.

“He’s not missing pitches he’s supposed to hit,” Baker said of his second-year shortstop. “He hit the ball very hard tonight. It’s great to see, because he puts in the time and the work. It was great to see him get some rewards.”

The first double in that fifth inning came from second baseman Mauricio Dubón, extending his hitting streak to an MLB-best 19 games. With a hit Wednesday, Dubón would own the Astros’ longest hitting streak since Hunter Pence’s 23-game streak in 2011.

What’s the secret to his success?

“Close my eyes and pray,” Dubón joked. “And it’s been working.”

A win in the series finale would give the Astros a 7-2 record in this three-series stretch against some of the most talented teams in the big leagues -- the Blue Jays, Braves and Rays. But for now, Houston will savor the first victory by any opponent inside Tropicana Field in 2023.

“You want to be the party-pooper,” Dubón said.