Royals hope to expose Astros’ vulnerable bullpen

HOUSTON — Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch occasionally bristles at conventional methodology, particularly given the availability of superior data and how its dissemination shapes decisions.

For instance, last Friday in Kansas City, the Astros (50-26) recalled first baseman Tyler White to take the roster spot of left-handed reliever Reymin Guduan, who made one appearance two days earlier before being placed on the paternity list for the birth of his child.

That move left the Astros one arm short in the bullpen and, when Guduan exhausted his time on the paternity list, the organization returned him to Triple-A Fresno instead of recalling him to Houston.

The Astros have completed two series with an extra position player on their bench, a move that some might consider unorthodox but one Hinch is reticent to harp on, despite being asked about his roster configuration more than once in the past week.

“In the heat in Kansas City, it was nice to have an extra guy when we won by a lot,” Hinch said of a 10-2 victory on June 16. “Maneuvering some pinch-hit opportunities has been key. Obviously, it allowed us to start an all right-handed lineup (Tuesday against Rays left-hander Blake Snell) and give (second baseman Jose) Altuve most of the day off.

“Our starters have gone pretty deep … the last two outings, which has allowed the bullpen to get rested. It feels a little different to have seven relievers, but in actuality, that’s too many. I’d have five position players on the bench if I could.”

The Astros, who will open a three-game series with the Royals on Friday at Minute Maid Park, will stand pat with seven relievers for the immediate future.

Right-hander Joe Smith, currently on the 10-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation, has begun a throwing program and is poised for a return to the active roster that could reset the bullpen balance.

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (4-8, 4.15 ERA) will start the opener for Houston. He is 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA in seven career starts against the Royals and picked up the win over Kansas City in his last start, allowing two unearned runs, six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in six innings in a 10-2 victory on June 16.

Keuchel had been 0-3 with a 7.33 ERA in his previous five starts.

The Royals will counter with left-hander Danny Duffy (3-7, 5.55 ERA) on Friday. Duffy surrendered seven runs (six earned), seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in six innings of his previous start, a 10-2 loss to the Astros on June 16. He is 2-3 with a 5.29 ERA in eight career appearances (five starts) against Houston.

Kansas City (22-52) has dropped nine consecutive games and 15 of 16 overall, including all three games during a series against the Astros last weekend at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals are batting .188 this month, their worst record in any month under ninth-year manager Ned Yost.

The Royals last won a road series on May 21-23, taking the final two games of a three-game set at St. Louis.