HOUSTON -- Astros starter Gerrit Cole is anything but idle on days he’s not pitching. You can typically find him standing next to manager AJ Hinch in the home dugout at Minute Maid Park talking about pitching, sequencing and anything else that runs through his mind.
In the hours before Friday’s game against the Angels, Cole approached closer Roberto Osuna about something he had picked up on and gave him some pointers about his four-seam fastball command. Osuna had gotten away from some things that had been working for him earlier in the season, and Cole had the elixir.
Osuna took the information to heart and needed only 11 pitches to retire the Angels in order in the ninth inning to record his 31st save in the Astros’ 5-4 win -- a victory which pushed their record to 83-47 and kept them on the heels of the Yankees (84-46) for the best record in the American League.
“I was throwing my four-seam [fastball], staying away from the middle [on Friday],” Osuna said. “I made a few mistakes in the past two, three months, and I was finally able to get back on track.”
Osuna’s return to form comes just in time for the Astros, who might be without All-Star setup man Ryan Pressly for the rest of the regular season after he underwent knee surgery Friday. He’s expected to miss four to six weeks, and the Astros are dealing with life without their swing-and-miss artist in the bullpen.
Hinch used veteran right-hander Hector Rondon in the eighth inning Friday -- a spot he would have typically employed Pressly -- and he gave up a leadoff homer to Kole Calhoun to cut the Houston lead to 5-4 before getting three outs in a row. But the biggest out, perhaps came to end the seventh when Will Harris, aka “Clutch Cam,” relieved Zack Greinke and struck out Shohei Ohtani to end the inning and strand runners at the corners.
“When you get a guy on third with less than two outs, you're hoping to get that run in,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said. “We weren't great with runners on tonight. It doesn't mean we're not a good team with runners on, it just means tonight we weren't great. You also have to give their pitchers some credit -- give Greinke, give Harris credit.”
Greinke (14-4) pitched around 10 hits and held the Angels to three runs (two earned) in 6 2/3 innings, striking out only one. He’s allowed seven earned runs in 25 2/3 innings (2.45 ERA) since coming to the Astros on July 31. He left with runners at first and third and two outs in the seventh, before Harris struck out Ohtani on three straight fastballs after falling behind 1-0.
“Zack did a great job and then handed the ball to Will in one of the biggest outs of the game,” Hinch said. “Rondon comes in, and luckily for us, we tacked on a run. … I don’t care how we get our 27 outs, and it might go in a different order.”
Hinch said pregame he wasn’t going to use Osuna, who had thrown in four of the previous five games entering Friday, including seven pitches for a save on Thursday. Osuna was adamant he could pitch Friday, and Hinch needed his closer.
“He [Hinch] talked to me before the game, and he told me I was going to be down,” Osuna said. “I told him I was feeling good enough to go out there and get three outs. I want to thank him, and thank the coaches and stuff for trusting me tonight.”
Hinch figures to continue to use Harris as a weapon to escape jams with men on base, while Osuna is locked and loaded as the closer. As far as the eighth inning goes, it could be Rondon, Joe Smith, Chris Devenski, Collin McHugh or Brad Peacock. Hinch says he has confidence in a number of arms to fill Pressly’s shoes.
“I think it’s a fun challenge for all of us to come here every day and kind of have our little pods, and work through it instead of just pushing the easy button and putting Ryan in there in the eighth inning,” said Harris, who has held opponents to 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position with two outs.
Yuli Gurriel -- “La Pina” -- hit a two-run, two-out homer to right field in the fifth to break a 2-2 tie and give him 21 home runs and 59 RBIs in his last 49 games, pushing his season RBI total to 91. Alex Bregman added an RBI single in the seventh for a 5-3 lead -- a crucial run considering Calhoun homered an inning later.
“We pushed a couple of guys maybe a little further than what I wanted to,” Hinch said. “We play these games to win, and when we have an opportunity to win, it’s nice [to see] your guys step up and pitch well, despite having to use them a lot.”