Brewers' Nelson strikes out nine in six-plus innings in series win over Astros
MILWAUKEE -- Jeremy Jeffress had barely finished his follow-through when Preston Tucker sent a hard liner right into his glove for the final out of the game.
Saw it the whole time, Jeffress said.
Milwaukee's bullpen worked out of jams in seventh and eighth before Jeffress pitched a perfect ninth, backing a solid start by Jimmy Nelson in a 3-2 win Sunday over the Houston Astros.
"Everybody down there is doing a nice job," manager Craig Counsell said.
The Brewers took two of three in the interleague series against the AL West contenders and finished a six-game homestand with a .500 record after losing two of three to the potent Giants in the season-opening series.
"Houston and San Fran, those are both quality teams and we showed that even in all the losses pretty much we were close," Nelson said. "We showed even with a young team that we can compete and we have some really good talent."
The bullpen has performed well despite injuries to key relievers Will Smith and Corey Knebel.
Jeffress, in his first season closing, threw 11 pitches while recording his third save. But the most impressive part of his outing might have been his quick reflexes on Tucker's screamer.
"That was a rocket, man. I saw it off the bat, and fortunately I caught it, I alligator-armed it and it went right in," Jeffress said.
Trailing by a run, Houston had runners on second and third with one out in the eighth after a throwing error by pitcher Michael Blazek. The reliever got George Springer to fly out to short center and Carlos Correa to bounce out to shortstop to escape the jam.
"Missed opportunities in the eighth after they made a mistake, which is unfortunate," Houston manager A.J. Hinch said.
Nelson (1-1) struck out nine in six-plus innings. He was charged with two runs and three hits with four walks.
Tyler Thornburg struck out the last two hitters in the seventh with a runner on second following a wild pitch.
The Astros missed out on their late chances to bail out ace Dallas Keuchel, who walked four in the first. He finished with a career high-tying six walks, including an intentional pass to Ryan Braun in the fourth.
Milwaukee took advantage of the early wildness when Aaron Hill hit a two-run single.
Keuchel (1-1) left with two outs in the sixth, striking out eight and allowing six hits and three runs.
"I had some good late movement but I couldn't really corral it in the strike zone," Keuchel said.
Walks have an early problem for Keuchel, who won the AL Cy Young Award last season. The left-hander has been uncharacteristically wild to start the season, having walked four in seven innings during his season-opening, 5-3 victory last week against the Yankees.
Hinch said he thought Keuchel was "a little excitable" early in the game and rushing through his delivery.
"It was just more of a lack of feel for him, which is uncommon for him," Hinch said.
Nelson (1-1) allowed a leadoff homer to Jose Altuve to deep left on the game's first pitch.
"I mean, the first pitch, there's nothing you can do about it. That's not a problem," Nelson said. "That's just (Altuve) being aggressive and sitting on a pitch right there. Am I supposed to throw a ball first pitch?"
Tucker led off the fifth with a homer to get Houston within a run.
Astros: Manager A.J. Hinch received a one-word text on Sunday from injured DH Evan Gattis. "Ready," Hinch said in relaying the message. Gattis, who is recovering from sports hernia surgery, is scheduled to play Monday at his rehab stint at Double-A Corpus Christi after the day off on Sunday. Team brass will discuss if Gattis will join the team for the home-opening series this week against Kansas City when the Astros return home.
Brewers: C Jonathan Lucroy got his first day off of the season, with Martin Maldonado getting the start behind the plate.
Astros: RHP Collin McHugh (0-1) starts Houston's home opener against the Kansas City Royals in a rematch of an AL division series last season. McHugh took the loss in the Royals' clinching Game 5, allowing three runs in four innings.
Brewers: RHP Taylor Jungmann (0-0) takes the hill in St. Louis for the Cardinals' home opener. It's the second straight season that the Brewers have been the opponent for home opener at Busch Stadium.