Royals take aim at series win against Astros
HOUSTON — It was yet another example of what the Houston Astros look like when their lineup depth flashes, their fourth win in their final at-bat this season offering a glimpse of potential even when everything didn’t quite fall into place.
As the Astros (51-27) near the halfway point of the schedule on Sunday against the Kansas City Royals, they recognize fully that they will require more wins like the one they recorded on Saturday to keep pace in the chase for the best record in the American League.
They were handcuffed by a scuffling pitcher for seven innings before the bottom third of their order helped complete a game-tying rally in the ninth.
And, while Houston failed to walk it off in the 11th, the bottom third of its order generated just enough traffic for the heavy hitters to come to bat in the 12th and secure the 4-3 victory.
Designated hitter Evan Gattis, batting seventh, produced the game-tying RBI with his sacrifice fly in the ninth inning following an 0-for-3 start to his evening. Marwin Gonzalez, batting eighth, walked in both of his final two plate appearances after recording three strikeouts against Royals starter Ian Kennedy. By churning out quality plate appearances, the job was easier up top.
“We’re at our best when those guys are doing something at the bottom,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “That takes a lot of pressure off the top of the order or the middle of the order to have to do it every time. That’s why we think we have a complete team.”
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (8-1, 2.59 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros in the rubber match. Cole did not factor into the decision in his last start, a 5-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, after allowing four runs on three hits and five walks with eight strikeouts over seven innings.
He made his lone start against the Royals on July 21, 2015, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits with six strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings in a 3-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium when he pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Right-hander Jason Hammel (2-8, 4.88 ERA) gets the starting nod for the Royals. Hammel is 2-2 with a 2.85 ERA over nine career appearances (eight starts) against the Astros, including a 1.74 ERA over his last three starts. He hasn’t pitched at Minute Maid Park since 2014.
Hammel, who issued a season-high four walks in his previous outing, has issued two or fewer walks in 11 of 15 appearances this season and is tied for fifth in the American League with 37 starts with two or fewer walks since the start of 2017. His four walks against the Texas Rangers snapped a 37-start streak of walking three or few batters dating back to May 29, 2017.
After delivering at the plate and in the field for the Royals (23-53) in the opener, right fielder Rosell Herrera had a quiet night on Saturday, going 0-for-4 with a walk. Claimed off waivers from Cincinnati on June 2, Herrera was recalled from Triple-A Omaha last Sunday and has worked to show the defensive range and offensive versatility that could make him an asset as the Royals take extended looks at some of the younger players on their major league roster.
“He’s athletic, he’s fast,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Herrera. “He seems to swing the bat OK from both sides. It’s only been a week. There’s a lot to like looking at him on a short look.”