HOUSTON — After an exceptional first turn through the rotation, Houston Astros starters have found the sledding a bit rockier three-fifths of the way through a second time around.
With Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel producing decent but unspectacular starts ahead of him, Astros right-hander Lance McCullers did the same on Friday night against San Diego, laboring through five innings while allowing three runs (two earned) on seven hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. It was a pedestrian effort for McCullers who, like Verlander and Keuchel, works with elevated expectations whenever he takes the mound for Houston (6-2).
“In the third (inning), I felt like I started hitting my groove,” McCullers said. “I felt that my fastball was coming out well. I threw more heaters today than I did the other day. I didn’t throw any changeups, which is on me. I have to do a better job of working that in.
“Overall, I feel like I’m in a good place. … Just kind of right now, the ball is going where guys aren’t. In the fifth, I have to do a better job of not giving up that (run-scoring) double.”
Right-hander Gerrit Cole (1-0, 1.29 ERA) will look to stem that tide in his Minute Maid Park debut on Saturday vs. San Diego. Cole is 4-2 with a 1.96 ERA over six career starts against the Padres. He was 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA against San Diego last season while pitching with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cole recorded 11 strikeouts in his first start of the season, an 8-2 win at Texas, becoming the fourth pitcher in franchise history to record at least 11 strikeouts in his Astros debut. It marked the seventh double-digit strikeout game of his career.
Right-hander Bryan Mitchell (0-1, 9.00 ERA) is scheduled to make his road debut with the Padres in the middle game of the three-game series. Mitchell joined the club along with infielder Chase Headley on Dec. 12, 2017, as part of a trade with the New York Yankees.
Mitchell has faced the Astros twice previously, posting a 2.08 ERA over 4 1/3 relief innings.
San Diego manager Andy Green was pleased with the start he received from right-hander Luis Perdomo in the Padres’ 4-1 win on Friday, but the performance of right-handed reliever Jordan Lyles was also noteworthy.
Lyles, a first-round pick of the Astros in 2008, spent three seasons with Houston before a trade sent him to Colorado. Following his release by the Rockies, Lyles made five starts with the Padres (2-6) last season after signing with the club on Aug. 8. He transitioned to the bullpen during spring training and the results have been stellar thus far.
Lyles worked two perfect innings, recording four strikeouts, his career-best in a relief effort.
“He’s throwing the ball incredibly well for us since going to the bullpen,” Green said. “As soon as we did that in spring training, the first inning he threw there was a level of aggression to him that you could just see and believe and he did it for three innings in spring training. Every time he’s taken the ball in the season he’s been outstanding. To be able to hand him the ball and be able to get through the teeth of the order, get through six hitters relatively easy, impressive.
“He’s got weapons. The changeup’s real. He’s throwing a real breaking ball right now. He’s throwing the cutter; the fastball is playing alive. I felt really good about him and have ever since he’s been in the bullpen.”