HOUSTON -- In what might have been their most complete win of the season, the Astros clubbed four homers, including the first career grand slam by Robinson Chirinos, and got 10 strikeouts in six innings from Gerrit Cole to rout the Blue Jays, 15-2, in the series opener on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
Here are three key takeaways from the Astros’ 26th win in their last 34 games:
Alvarez shows power, patience
Hitting cleanup in only his fourth Major League game, Alvarez became the first player in Astros history -- and the 20th in Major League history -- to homer three times in his first four games. He went 3-for-4 and also drew a bases-loaded walk in the eighth inning on four pitches, giving him six walks in 19 plate appearances.
“It’s a big responsibility and something I take seriously,” Alvarez said of hitting fourth. “I tried to do the same thing I always do and it turned out well."
Alvarez, 21, had the three hardest-hit balls in the game in terms of exit velocity: a 114.1-mph single in the first, the home run at 108.7-mph in the fourth and a 110.2-mph single in the sixth -- off three different pitchers. The 114.1-mph exit velocity is the second-hardest hit ball by an Astros player this year (114.2-mph by George Springer off Drew Smyly on April 19).
“He’s a smart kid and he has a plan,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s very calm and he’s very confident. He’s had a tremendous amount of success, and it’s translating to the big leagues because he’s taking a similar approach. He’s not chasing a ton right now, he’s very much in command of his at-bats, he’s looking for the right pitches, he’s taking the right pitches and swinging at the right pitches. There’s a lot he’s doing right, and it starts with the right mindset and mental aptitude to be at this level at an early age.”
Grand night for Chirinos
The veteran catcher has probably put himself on the radar to make the American League All-Star team after going 2-for-5 with a grand slam in the eighth and a two-run single with the bases loaded in the first, giving him a career-high six RBIs. He has 12 homers, 38 RBIs and a .888 OPS.
“It feels really good, especially being my first one,” Chirinos said. “I don’t know how many at-bats I’ve had with the bases loaded but I think I have too many. Thank God it was a good swing and I was trying to get on top of the fastball because I was late the whole game with fastballs up in the zone. I was able to exploit one, and it went out of the ballpark. It was fun.”
Chirinos was 6-for-39 with no home runs with the bases loaded prior to Friday.
Armenteros saves some arms
The Astros called up Rogelio Armenteros prior to Friday’s game to help spell a bullpen that has pitched a lot innings lately. Houston had played three extra-inning games in its previous six games prior Friday with the bullpen logging 26 1/3 innings in that stretch.
The arrival of Armenteros and the blowout win couldn’t have worked out better for Hinch. Armenteros allowed two hits in three scoreless innings and became the first Astros pitcher to record a save in his Major League debut since 1969 (when saves became an official stat), giving key relievers Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna consecutive days off.
“We need it, and Armenteros was perfectly timed to come up and get his Major League debut,” Hinch said. “He gets the save, pitches the three innings we needed. Gerrit got out of it relatively at a decent workload (100 pitches). We hit a couple of homers and did just about everything right. I’ll take that game.”
Cole (6-5) extended his Major League lead in strikeouts to 140 while holding the Blue Jays to two runs and three hits in six innings. The only runs he allowed came in the fifth inning on a two-run double by Cavan Biggio, the son of Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio who was playing his first big-league game in his hometown.