KANSAS CITY -- Jason Castro came through with the clutch hit the Astros sorely needed in the seventh inning on Wednesday night, a two-run, pinch-hit single to put his team ahead. The good feelings didn’t last long in the visiting dugout.
Hunter Dozier smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh off reliever Blake Taylor and Royals left fielder Andrew Benintendi threw out Chas McCormick at the plate to end the game and send the Astros to their fourth consecutive loss, 3-2, at Kauffman Stadium.
In the ninth, Jose Altuve’s two-out single nearly scored McCormick from second base, but he was called out on a close play. Houston challenged the call, which was ruled as stands. McCormick was out and the Astros had lost their third in a row to the last-place Royals.
“We haven’t seen many of those calls go our way this year, but it looked like on the board up there, from what all saw, he got underneath,” manager Dusty Baker said.
The Astros have dropped series to the Twins and Royals in the past two weeks, and earlier this year were swept by the Tigers, Orioles, Rangers and Rockies (two games).
“It’s obviously frustrating,” Castro said. “We know we’re capable of better baseball than this. We hold ourselves to that standard. You have to give some credit to a lot of these teams. Just because their record doesn’t reflect [it], they have some pitching that is capable of throwing good outings. … Not ideal for us. All we can do is keep bringing the same intensity that we bring any day.”
Baker explains bullpen decision
After Castro’s go-ahead hit in the seventh, Baker went to the left-hander Taylor to start the seventh, and it didn’t go well. He gave up a leadoff double to Benintendi before Dozier hit a 1-1 slider over the left-field wall for a homer that put the Royals ahead, 3-2.
Baker said the reason he pitched Taylor instead of Kendall Graveman was that Benintendi doesn’t hit left-handers nearly as well as right-handers. “Not even close,” he said.
Benintendi came into the game hitting .257/.294/.396 vs. left-handers and .250/.309/.395 vs. right-handers this year, but he has hit righties (.279/.354/.450) better than lefties (.246/.322/.691) in his career. Benintendi is 2-for-5 with a double in his career against Graveman.
The alignment Baker was hoping for was Graveman in the eighth and Ryan Pressly in the ninth.
“It was a situation where Taylor was already loose for that job,” Baker said. “And everybody has a job to do. When else was I supposed to use [Taylor], you know? … He made a mistake. He had one ball and two strikes, and he hung it [to Benintendi], and then he hung the slider to Dozier, as well, that resulted in a two-run homer.”
Castro said he wanted the slider farther down in the zone to get Dozier to chase.
“I’m sure he’d like to have that pitch back,” Castro said. “That’s part of baseball. To [Dozier’s] credit, he did a great job staying back and recognizing the pitch, and he put a good swing on it. Obviously, we’ve seen Taylor do some really good things this year and we’ll continue to lean on him being one of our trusted lefties. Tough night for him, but we’ll bounce back.”
Ground balls bite Greinke
Zack Greinke remained unbeaten on the road this year after taking a no-decision in a game in which he allowed one run and five singles in six innings.
Three of the five hits squirted through the infield in holes created by the defensive shift -- Salvador Perez through the second-base hole in the fourth, Ryan O’Hearn through the shortstop hole in the fifth and Nicky Lopez through the third-base hole in the sixth.
“If you don’t strike out anyone at all, you’re going to give up some hits,” Greinke said. “Sometimes the shift helps, sometimes it doesn't.”
The other two hits were up the middle, including a single by Lopez in the fourth that Greinke -- a six-time Gold Glove Award winner -- felt he should have fielded. Greinke was also struck in the calf by a comebacker in the second and started a 1-6-3 double play in the fifth.
“I felt like there was a lot of ground balls hit back at me, more than normal,” he said. “I wasn’t too good at the first couple hit to me and started making some plays later. I’m guessing that’s kind of what they do. They try to hit the ball on the ground and steal a base, and that’s what they did today.”
Greinke didn’t walk a batter or strike out a batter. It was the first time in his career that he didn’t strike out a batter in a start that went at least three innings.
“I didn’t think there was any situation where I needed to try to strike someone out,” he said.