Coming off a very disappointing weekend of two crushing losses offsetting a solid win against the Rangers, it would be quite easy to concentrate on only negative questions today.
When will the real Jose Abreu show up – or is this him? What has turned so much of the bullpen from flamethrowers to firestarters? When do the Astros go a different direction from David Hensley (.179 BA/ .273 OBP/ .452 OPS) as their main bench body after using the red-hot Mauricio Dubon in the daily lineups? At what point does the red-hot Dubon cool down to whatever his norm will be? Why do I stare at the two oldest MLB managers (Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker) and think the 68 year old Bochy looks five years older than the 73-year-old Baker rather than the other way around?
But, we will leave all that negativism aside for today and concentrate on the brightest spot on the weekend, which may be the brightest spot going forward – Hunter Brown. And specifically, we will look at the third inning of his start on Saturday, which was critical when looking at what he means for the team now and what he could mean for the future.
It may seem odd that we will be looking at a half-inning where Brown gave up two (unearned) runs in his last start. But what happened to him in that half inning and, more importantly, how he responded to it is of great interest.
Setting the table, this was a 0-0 game heading into the third inning, and Brown had pitched very well the first two innings. But what happened next was really quite amazing.
- Robbie Grossman hit a very easy grounder to Mauricio Dubon, who had been playing a very good 2nd base, but he jerked a throw and tossed it about 5 feet wide allowing Grossman on base.
- Travis Jankowski whacked one up the middle that Jeremy Pena got to, but could not corral. Grossman continued onto third base and it was rightfully called a hit. It would have been a tough play, but one that Pena has made before.
- Leody Taveras then grounded to Alex Bregman at third, who caught Grossman in a rundown between third and the plate. After tagging Grossman, he then gunned the ball to first catching Taveras, having to dive back to the base. After a review, the safe call stood – leaving runners on first and third.
- Marcus Semien then hit a seeing-eye grounder between short and 3rd base to bring in the first run.
- Hunter Brown looked like he was losing it as he then plunked Josh Smith to re-load the bases.
- He then did a nice job of striking out Nathanial Lowe after falling behind 3-0 with a tough 8 pitch K.
- Adolis Garcia hit a slow bouncer up the middle that Pena made a great play on. Unfortunately, the umpire called him safe and the Astros having already lost a challenge could not challenge this one or he would have been out and Hunter Brown would have been back in the dugout instead of losing 2-0.
- Brown received his only good break of the inning as Josh Jung violated the pitch clock and had a strike rung up on him before he saw a pitch. Brown then struck him out on a 95 mph slider to get out of the inning.
So, what’s my point here? The point is that Hunter Brown did a brilliant job of ignoring all the things that happened to him and kept throwing quality pitches. Yes, he gave up 2 runs in the inning, but basically he threw well enough to get six outs and due to defense and questionable umpiring and reviewing, he ended up having to go through 8 hitters to get his 3 outs.
There were a couple of important things that happened here. First of all, so many times, young pitchers in these type of situations meltdown. It would not have been out of the question to see this turn into a five or six-run inning with a big back-breaking home run (were you watching this Hector Neris?). Giving up 2 runs was basically the minimum that he could have given up based on all the disheartening plays in this inning. Secondly, he tucked this 24-pitch inning in his back pocket and bore down and left after 99 pitches and 7 innings of five-hit ball and only those two unearned runs.
The Astros rewarded him with a win, jumping back into a tie right away, taking a one-run lead before Brown left the game, and sealing the win with a seventh-inning rally on the way to an 8-2 win.
This was a game that could have gotten away from the team early, but Hunter Brown willed his team back into the dugout. He could have melted down and had to be pulled early, putting more pressure on the bullpen. But he did not melt down. He pitched like the stud the Astros are hoping he will be.
It was one heck of a half inning.
The Astros saved their Sunday hits to use on Monday.
Back to Hunter for a moment. He’s the highlight of April to date. I mentioned him briefly on Saturday. Had he not walked off that mound still in the game on Saturday, things could have been a real mess going into last nights game. As a fast worker, he’s not impacted by the clock. He’s throwing strikes, although location is not always ideal. There will be bad nights, but right now, I’m not sure if I’d rather have another guy on the mound to start a game. No BS.
I have a confession to make. When Javier was standing on the mound in the 3rd inning at 70 pitches with the bases loaded sweating bullets and Chapman coming up, I turned off the laptop and grabbed a book. Too much drama for a Monday night in April! I settled for the condensed game this morning.
I think our top three starters all have a problem with the pitch clock that they’ll need to adjust to or not be very good this year.
Could Frenchy Dubon end up being a poor mans version of J.R. Martinez?
That was a heck of a catch by Bregman.
Yordan has entered a mini slump.
Julks is a bit of a savior. Someone was smart to put him on the roster and send Dirden for more work.
Phil! What a job in the pen.
Chas has been Wally Pipped by Jake. Speaking of Jake, he went into his home run trot on a ball headed for the second row.
That was a pretty good game to win. Can these guys string a couple together?
In fairness, Jake may have been shocked he hit a ball into fair territory. I’m normally in favor of benching guys who aren’t hustling, but with as deep as Springer was playing that was either going to be an out or a HR.
The big thing with Meyers is that I actually saw him smiling – to steal a joke from one of my favorite movies “Parenthood” as spoken by Keanu Reeves about Diane Wiest’s sullen teenage son (played by a very young Joaquin Phoenix) – “He was actually smiling. I didn’t even know he had teeth.”
Yes, Jake had a good time last night. Ride it!
It was a good half inning. Shout out to Robbie Grossman – guy played just a year or two here yet probably still ranks chipalatta.com’s top 50 mentions of all time. I feel confident the slider was 93 not 95 though Dan! It was good to see the mental toughness go along with the talent. You never know when he is going to show up and walk 4 dudes in 3 innings but he has been great in 2 of his 3 starts.
Dubon just always reminded me of that guy in little league. The one with great technique. Always in the right spot. You watch him swing and you know he understands the idea of leverage and technique. Fluid motion. He was just a runt. Every time he batted the opposing pitcher turned and told the outfielders to come in some. The results have always looked like a guy weighing 160 pounds playing with giants. Maybe, just maybe, at 28 he has a little more pop off the bat. I’ll tell you what, NO ONE on this team goes opposite field better.
Javier had to really buck down to get 5 yesterday. When he was at 71 pitches after 3 innings I was doubtful he was going to get what he needed to take advantage of those 7 1st inning runs. But he did. Good job fighting himself and his command.
Speaking of bucking down – shout out to Gausman. I know, Astros fan site. Gotta appreciate a guy that gets wrecked in the 1st inning and still survives to the 5th to help his manager keep some arms in reserve in the 1st game of the series.
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– On the mlb.com game summary, it showed the slider as 94.6 mph, so I rounded up.
– I know that Dubon is doing a great job right now, but he certainly wasn’t doing that last year. I love that he is letting the pitch go deep and then squaring it up to right field and how he just is putting everything in play. Fun to watch
– Javier had me worried (and still does a bit), but he gave them the five innings they needed. It would have been crazy if Gausman gave up 7 runs in the 1st inning and then outlasted Javier.
– Which brings us to Gausman. I was thinking the same thing last night – the guy had a terrible 1st inning, but really buckled down for his team and made it fairly easily thru 5 innings. No problem praising an effort like that – especially when our team wins.
– So did somebody send Phil Maton to a sports psychologist after his broken hand last year? He looks completely locked in without looking psychotic. He always looked like a watch wound too tight last year, he still looks intense, but man his breaking ball is incredible right now.
Admittedly I was scrolling on my phone but TK said “and got him a 93 MPH outside slider” with a tone that 93 was incredible for a slider (which it is).
Can we get a survey on best Astros announce teams ever? My vote is TK and Blum. May they reign in that booth for the rest of my life!
And linking back to crawfishboxes who are linking to us
Julks and Meyers were the batting heroes of last nights game. Meyers must have taken a lesson from Dubon and Chaz as a line drive base hit to left is a lot better than a pulled roll over grounder to short. If the Astros had taken the same approach in the second through 5th against Gausman as the 1st they’d have scored 20 runs. 12 K’s is not good. Gausman was definitely off his game as he couldn’t throw strikes. Maybe 1 in 4. They waited him out in the 1st and we see what happened. I saw at least 4 k’s where he never threw a pitch over the plate. Sometimes I think these guys would rather swing at bad pitches than take a walk.
Kudos to Javier for staying the course and getting out of a bases loaded jam and then a good 4th and 5th inning. Maton was super in relief. Maybe he’s “new and improved” this year. Good to see Salazar getting an opposite field hit (oops there’s that phrase again).
I thought Hensley was going to be a good hitter but he’s not looking at it this year.
On Stone Cold Astros, it was alluded that maybe time is catching up with Abreu. He should be depositing balls in the Crawford boxes faster than one putting quarters in an old pinball machine but his bat speed isn’t there. Thus the fly outs to center field or weak ground outs. If what you have been doing isn’t working, try something else. Right field is beautiful this time of year.
Hopefully, we can get back on track. It’s going to be a tough go over the next 8 games.
Mistake, s/b “line drive to right” not left.
Anthony Bass who pitched for us back in the dark days and now pitches for the Blue Jays (gave up a run in an inning of relief last night) is getting a lot of “attention” for his off the field posting…..
The folks commenting are hitting him hard over this
I still don’t know how my mother managed 8 kids without help, washed all the diapers and fed us all 7 days a week, 52 weeks year. The popcorn trip with just two of us would have been a vacation for her.
A little story.
I went to an annual BBQ of our old HS football players in January — sat around shooting the breeze, playing cards & drinking adult beverages as is our custom. Particularly excited this yr because a friend brought his two sons, who both play pro ball. One leans over and asks, “Bro, you need to help Corey Julks get on the team.” They played together at UofH. I said, I’ll try.
Now, mind you, he’s been on my radar for about 3 yrs, since he played real well in Fayettville and his buddy told me he squats 550 lbs.
I woke up early-March and it occurred to me, if they are considering rostering Dirden a season earlier than his Rule 5, then right this moment is Julks’ window. So, I got on the horn and got him two interviews. He backed them up with some nice hitting that caught Dusty’s eye, and my 2019 “dark horse” I’d written about at Crawfish Boxes started catching on.
Obviously, I had little to do with him making the team. The team has had incentives to promote him for a year, really, and they liked him enough to pull him out of AA slumping and send him to FL facility a few yrs ago. It’s just nice knowing you can have a pulse on this team, and what they’re thinking.
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Cool story GoStros – love the inside info and folks that come out of nowhere. Good for you pushing for him. Julks looks so poised at the plate and does a great job squaring them up. They said he has the third highest exit velocity on the team behind Tucker and Alvarez, of course….
Hunter Brown certainly showed us mental toughness, the ability to have a short-term memory and forget all the negatives that happened in that inning to make the pitches he needed and avoid a meltdown. It seems that so far, that is the difference between him and Whitley.
I am a little more encouraged by Whitley’s start this year because it’s the first time he has looked decent in game conditions since forever.
There was some interesting stuff in this article.
Chas on 10-day IL with lower back tightness. Bannon called up:
That’s kind of weird. They could not find out why Chas had blurry vision so they gave him a sore back?
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That’s what I said to the Mrs.
Trust me, I know that back soreness can cause blurred vision by the person who is sore. Maybe others in that dugout have blurred vision.
Another non-descript game. Team just doesn’t seem exciting right now. Abreu had a shot in the 8th to do some damage, but again, he “got juuuussssst under that one.” Seems to be a reoccuring theme for that 58 million.
Imagine where we would be without Dubon. Bet you didn’t think that statement was coming 18 games ago. Shout out to Alvarez’s ankle, that is a big man to have roll on you. It deserves a lot of credit. I’ll be surprised if he is in the lineup today though.
The F bomb Tucker dropped when that foul went off his knee was audible even on MLB.tv. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tucker isn’t in the lineup either.
If they are both out, the we will be lucky to score 2. Good luck Mr. Garcia, may a few MPH show up and brighten your day.
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The big elephant in the room is the lack of production from the #1, #2 and #4 spots in the batting order. Those three guys are not getting the job done.
Fangraphs agrees with me. Dubon, Bregman and Abreu have a combined 0.5 WAR and are putting all the pressure on Tucker and Alvarez to produce while they both see trash pitches inside and outside and also get tons of bad strikes called on them by home plate umpires. The umpires haven’t figured out that pitchers are deliberately throwing pitches off the plate on purpose to these two, so they are giving the pitchers the benefit of the doubt that they can’t possibly be wanting to miss the plate that often.
Dubon, Bregman and Abreu are seeing a ton of strikes because they have shown they rarely do damage on those pitches and the umpires then get lazy on Tucker and Alvarez because those two hardly ever see a pitch over the plate.
Good post. I can’t blame Alvarez for getting frustrated and chasing crap out of the zone which is happening at this point. He’s trying to produce when nobody else is. But for a guy in the same league as Judge and Trout, he gets no respect. You’ve already said it 1OP, the electronic ball and strike calling system can’t come too soon.
Weeks ago, I put our hopes for an acceptable April of baseball in the hands of our pitchers. If we want to finish at .500, we need more from the guys that have provided it before. And this sure is a good night for Garcia to come out and throw 6 or 7 very solid innings. I don’t want to go 3 games under.
Watching the game on Sunday night coupled with the number of times our hitters have been plunked this year made me wonder if there is something nefarious at play. I started trying to research this and decided there are too many anecdotes and homer-writers out there and not enough people presenting clear facts. My opinion is the umpires are probably getting so many calls wrong because of the pitch clock and speedup rules. Do I have any evidence to back that up? No, I’m a homer fan who has no shame in admitting I think the Astros get shafted more than the opponents though.
Devin, I think that may well be a factor. A whole lot of change was dropped in the laps of the umps at one time. Umps that already had enough trouble calling balls and strikes accurately.
That is a terrific point I had not heard expressed anywhere. How much distraction is there for the umpires when they are trying to keep track of when the batter is ready, when the pitcher is ready, when the pitcher releases the pitch and oh by the way – now concentrate on the rock flying in at 90+ MPH.
Good job Devin
Glad to see both Tucker and Alvarez in the lineup. A bit surprised to see Hensley rather than Julks. And I guess Yainer’s job is to catch Brown once a week.