Houston veteran right-hander Zack Greinke has thus far served as the staff workhorse, but for all their offensive might, the Astros will need the rest of their starters to start eating innings.
In the Astros' 6-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Friday, right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. pitched effectively albeit not for long, allowing one run on two hits and three walks with six strikeouts over five innings. One night after five pitchers covered the final four innings of a 6-2 victory, the Houston bullpen was charged with the same task in the middle game of this three-game series.
McCullers has logged five innings in both of his starts this season. Right-hander Cristian Javier has covered just 8 2/3 innings over two starts while right-handers Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia have logged a total of 7 2/3 innings in two starts this season. That has yielded a heavy workload for the bullpen, which benefited from an off-day Wednesday but had to cover four innings Friday.
"Yeah somewhat," Astros manager Dusty Baker said when asked if he needs his starters to work deeper into games. "We thought that McCullers had had enough because he had that 32-pitch (fourth) inning that took a lot out of him. We wanted to go deeper but we made a couple of mistakes, and they capitalized on them. That was the ballgame."
Urquidy (0-0, 4.15 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros on Saturday. He allowed two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings in his season debut on April 4, a 9-2 victory over Oakland, marking the 13th time in 15 career appearances that Urquidy has allowed two or fewer runs. He is winless in three career starts against the Athletics, posting a 2.93 ERA while recording 16 strikeouts over 15 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Frankie Montas (0-1, 23.63 ERA) gets the start for Oakland. He took the loss in his season debut April 5 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing seven runs on seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings. Montas has dropped three consecutive starts dating to last season and is 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA in nine career appearances (seven starts) against the Astros. He went 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in three starts against Houston in 2020.
There was little reason to believe that the Athletics would continue to suffer a power outage at the plate. Two seasons ago, Oakland finished fourth in the American League in home runs (257) and fifth in slugging (.466) so, after a start that saw the Athletics hit .170 over their opening seven games, a breakthrough seemed inevitable. The only question was the matter of when.
Jed Lowrie, Matt Olson and Mark Canha all slugged home runs in the Athletics' win Friday, with Olson registering a 414-foot blast to right field in the eighth inning that served as the backbreaker.
"We were in the dugout saying: It's coming, it's coming, it's coming," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "Next thing you know Olly hits a homer and then Canha."
--Field Level Media