Houston Astros: Motoring Forward Into May!

George Springer celebrated his first walkoff hit last week. Photo Courtesy: Arturo Pardavila III
George Springer celebrated his first walkoff hit last week. Photo Courtesy: Arturo Pardavila III

By Will Martin

Collin McHugh came back to earth on May 4th in his his third appearance as an Astros hurler. A five game homestand was competitive in that four of the five home games were one run affairs. Sadly there was only one victory to show for it. As April came to an end Houston exceeded their win total from 7-19 to 9-19. Take those moral victories as they come.

In what was to be the first of two ten game homestands in 2014 for the Astros this one ended on a 3-7 note. This with a three game set with the Seattle Mariners to begin May with an exciting come from behind victory on one of the two teams Houston has had success against. More on that in a moment.

April 30th marked a homecoming for local Houston talent Anthony Rendon and his Washington Nationals. Going 4 for 5 with three ribbies, a triple shy of hitting for the cycle the Nationals rolled to a 7-0 shutout of Houston. Of concern for the Astros is the continuing struggles for Brett Oberholzer (0-5). Six earned runs on 11 hits in less than 5 innings of work.

“I think when you look at his last couple of outings, and I talked to [pitching coach Brent Strom] about it, it looks like he’s gotten away from pitching on the inner third of the plate,” Skipper Bo Porter said. “When you get predictable and it’s one side of the plate, Major League hitters are going to take advantage of that. He left some balls up.

“You look at the success he had last year, it was the ability he had to use both sides of the plate, the ability to use his secondary stuff.”

Leaving ten runners on base while going 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position not going to help your starters. Jordan Zimmerman went 6 and 1/3 scoreless innings in getting his 45th career victory. Zimmerman now the winningest pitcher in Nats history. Even with the win Jordan was quick to credit Houston’s approach to working pitch counts.

“My first inning, I threw 20-something pitches and basically the whole game, I was trying to battle back to get the pitch count manageable,” he said. “They fouled some good pitches off and made me work.”

An error by newly called up outfielder George Springer led to an early Washington score when a drive by Denard Span was misplayed. To match Oberholzer’s five losses Springer has five errors on the young season.

“I think a lot of it is speed of the game,” Porter said. “It’s not physical, like he doesn’t have the physical tools to make these plays. I think, one, there has to be a maturation that takes place. You look at the play today — it’s a double or a possible triple. It’s a speed guy who hits the ball in the gap. From an outfield standpoint, there is nothing you can do to prevent him from getting to second base for sure. Now, if you hit the relay man and it’s a great relay and everything goes right and he’s out at third on the slide, then good job. But do your part, pick up the ball and hit the cutoff man.”

Stat time: When the Astros allow the opposition to score first their record in 2014 is 2-14. Not what you want to have to content with as a starter. More from Brett Oberholzer on this issue.

“We’re not going to beat anyone on a day-to-day basis with our talent,” he said. “But we definitely have to do a better job of willing ourselves to compete on a day-to-day basis and matching the intensity the other teams bring to the game.”

“We need to come out and try to jump on some teams early,” catcher Jason Castro said. “That’s when I feel like we have our most success is when we’re able to get on the teams early and try to continue that throughout the game.”

“I can’t speak for everybody,” he said. “I can only speak for myself. I’m definitely fully prepared before every game. From what I’ve seen, I think guys are going out there with a solid game plan and have an idea of what they’re going to do.”

If you’re keeping track Washington took the two game set with a 4-3 victory April 29th. This night Houston’s bullpen blew another led for the 4th time when leading in the 8th thus costing Jarred Cosart for a second straight start.

“It’s very concerning, because our starting rotation has done a really good job, and tonight you felt like you were in position to win the game,” Porter said. “You had the right guys matched up, and we just didn’t get it done. Their bullpen came in and closed it out.”

Anthony Bass and Josh Fields (0-3) were the culprits for a bullpen that now sports a collective ERA at 6.04 after 27 games which is thoroughly unacceptable. Fields afterwards said he wasn’t feeling it.

“I felt just a little uncomfortable out there,” Fields said. “[Catcher Jason] Castro, right before the last hitter, came out there and told me what he was seeing, and I threw strikes after that and was able to get out of the inning. I thought it was a little mechanical. I couldn’t quite find my rhythm out there.”

Friday night George Springer would earn himself a water shower after delivering a walk-off hit in the 11th inning of  a 4-4 deadlock with the Mariners. Twas his 5th at bat of the night and a sense of redemption after striking out the first four times.

Springer was quick to praise the relief efforts of newly acquired Tony Sipp and Anthony Bass retiring the last six batters to get the won. Houston’s first win in their last at bat.

“The arms today threw outstanding,” Springer said. “It was one of those things where I would say it’s a great team win. It was a great effort from our starter. He threw a hell of a game. Great effort from the ‘pen, great effort from the offense. That’s a perfect example of a team win.”

There was some drama before the walk off hit as both Dexter Fowler and Carlos Corporan each bunted their way on after a Jose Altuve single to set up Springer for success.

“Truthfully, if it wasn’t for the at-bats that were before me, I’m not in that position,” Springer said. “Altuve, Fowler and Corporan had three great at-bats. It was one of those things I was trying to slow myself down, and I know it’s going to sound ridiculous, but just hit a ground ball up the middle and help us win.”

“Things like that can definitely get you going and you take off,” Bo Porter said. “You watch George, and even through his struggles tonight, there was never a doubt in his mind. He continues to battle and ends up at the plate with the bases loaded and the game on the line and ends up coming up with the big hit.”

Despite 23 whiffs in his first 61 at bats Bo Porter is keeping George Springer in the cleanup spot for now. On the heels of the 11 inning win on May 2nd May 3rd also provided some excitement. Unfortunately where there’s (Justin) Smoak there’s fire as Seattle would push across eight runs off Dallas Keuchel and the bullpen in the 7th to allow the Mariners a 9-8 win. Smoak’s two run blast was the difference maker.

Houston did however rebound for 6 runs in the 7th and 8th frames only to come up short. Chris Carter connected for his seventh tater on Seattle since July of 2013.

“We’re not happy with the result, but it’s a credit to our guys,” said Houston manager Bo Porter. “They keep plugging away, regardless of what happens. We put ourselves in position to make a huge comeback.”

May 4th Collin McHugh came down to earth as his era rose from 0.59 all the way to 2.79 as the Mariners were ready to deal with Collin’s off-speed stuff.

“What you saw today was a team make an adjustment, and [Collin] didn’t have the sharpness to his breaking stuff like he had that day in Seattle,” said Houston manager Bo Porter. “Those guys did a good job of backing the ball up. A lot of those big hits were the other way.”

In the series finale each of the Mariners batters 1-4 collected 2 rbi including Willie Bloomquist and Robinson Cano. Jonathan Villar and Alex Presley went deep for the Astros despite losing another 1 run game 8-7. The big inning was what hurt the Astros this homestand. Villar with five round-trippers and 14 extra base hits lead all shortstops in the American League.

Even with the 1-4 week of futility Houston collected 11 hits in each of the three games with the Mariners while plating across 20 runs. Each are season highs for the team.

Ace Scott Feldman was dealing with biceps tendinitis to wind up April. Look for him to do one rehab stint before returning to the Houston rotation. New month now here and a stopper is needed to keep the ship and the spirits afloat. Its now on to Detroit for the Astros as they’ll battle the Tigers for four then three in Baltimore with the Orioles.

Nine wins in April was good. Lets see if 14 wins in May can happen. I’ll hold out hope that they can. Record in 1-run games now 3-5, 2-4 in 2-run games. When hitting a homer, 9-8 in games. 0-11 when they take the collar.

Upcoming Schedule
5/7   @Tigers      6:08 p.m.
5/8   @Tigers     12:08 p.m.
5/9   @Orioles     6:05 p.m.
5/10 @Orioles    6:05 p.m.
5/11  @Orioles   12:35 p.m.