Blanco's breakout All-Star worthy? Altuve says yes

Rookie right-hander tosses 7 no-hit innings vs. Tigers in latest stellar performance for Astros

June 16th, 2024

HOUSTON -- If Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who’s been chosen to play in eight All-Star Games, says one of his teammates should be an All-Star, then everybody should probably listen. Altuve’s endorsement aside, rookie pitcher 's resume speaks for itself.

Blanco, who put himself on the map by throwing a no-hitter in his eighth Major League start on April 1, came six outs shy of throwing another one Sunday afternoon and combined with two relievers to three-hit the Tigers in the Astros’ 4-1 win at Minute Maid Park.

Blanco is 7-2 with a 2.43 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and a .164 opponents’ batting average through his first 13 starts, which began with a no-hitter against Toronto and was followed up by six one-hit innings April 7 at Texas. He’s allowed one run and three hits over his past two starts (13 innings).

“I know the numbers are there [for All-Star consideration],” said Altuve, who clubbed a three-run homer in the second inning to lead the Astros offense. “I know he’s not thinking about that. He’s thinking about winning. That’s all he talks about. I really think he should be in there.”

Blanco retired the first 14 batters he faced before walking Gio Urshela, Akil Baddoo and Carson Kelly in succession with two outs in the fifth. He retired Zach McKinstry to end the fifth and keep the no-hitter going, but ran his pitch count to 72 in the process.

“That fifth inning, those three walks there, taxed him a little bit,” Astros manager Joe Espada said. “But a no-hitter for seven innings? That’s pretty damn good.”

Blanco retired six of the final seven batters he faced, with the only other baserunner against him coming on a two-out throwing error in the seventh by Alex Bregman. Blanco was pulled at 94 pitches for Ryan Pressly, who gave up a clean two-out single to Wenceel Pérez.

“I knew I had thrown a lot of pitches and I wasn’t going to be able to finish it, so I just accepted it,” Blanco said through an interpreter.

When Blanco came back to the dugout after the seventh, Espada gave him a hug, telling him what his season has meant to a team that’s been devastated by injuries to its pitching staff. Blanco wasn’t supposed to pitch until Tuesday in Chicago, but Justin Verlander’s neck tightness pushed him up a game.

“I told him how proud I am of what he’s doing,” Espada said. “This is a guy that came out of nowhere and he continues to perform at a high level. He has really picked this team up through injuries and he goes out there and does things where we need him to step up, and he does. I’m proud of the work he’s done, and I told him if the fifth inning wasn’t that long, I would have allowed him to go back out there.”

Blanco -- a former infielder who switched to pitching at 18 years old and visited several academies in the Dominican Republic before the Astros eventually signed him for $5,000 -- threw the 17th no-hitter in franchise history in a 10-0 win over the Blue Jays, walking two batters and striking out seven.

“I know how hard it is to get to this level,” Espada said. “I never played in the big leagues and I coached for a very long time before getting this opportunity, and it’s not easy. When you get someone who grinds his way to this position, it’s special. It’s special for our family here as a team, for the organization. It’s a thing here in Houston where every year new guys step up and take over. That’s how you sustain winning, when guys keep coming up and pitch or play or do special things for a team.”

Blanco mixed his four-seam fastball, slider and changeup beautifully, getting eight whiffs on his changeup, which has emerged as a key weapon for his success this year. He struck out eight.

“We obviously couldn't get anything started against him,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “The three walks, you have a chance with two outs, but he wiggled out of it. And then he just continued to hit spots and throw a lot of different pitches. He's been really good all year. He's kind of having a breakout year. We knew we were going to need to try to create some pressure on him and get some innings going, and with no hits, it's hard."