Mastered By Hand: Astros Lose Pitcher’s Duel 2-0


The opening contest of the Astros versus Marlins series was a match-up of two lefties. It featured the Astros ace Dallas Keuchel against the young Brad Hand. The young Marlins entered the game with 48 wins as a bit of a surprise while hovering eight games out of the race. Friday was also the Astros debut of Gregorio Petit at shortstop. The story of the game was a lot of nothing for the Astros. The offense looked desperate of needing a win, and the at bats suffered by the inning. Without George Springer and Dexter Fowler in the lineup, it will just be simply difficult to win games. Hand was masterful, and I would look for him to be a force for the Marlins as the year goes on. Regardless, obtaining a run or two should have been possible for the Astros in this contest, as they lost 2-0.

The Astros were held hitless until the bottom of the third when Petit banged out a single to center field in his first at bat. With not much offense to speak of early on, Keuchel was the star of the show. He struck out six through four innings and looked as dominant with his fastball as we have seen. Jason Castro chipped in with a key throw to third to nab Donovan Solano attempting to steal.

Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Keuchel’s first sign of true trouble sprung in the top of the fifth when Jarrod Saltalamacchia led off with a double down the left field line. Marcell Ozuna followed with a single through the left side to put runners at first and third. Keuchel found a way to escape the jam with a double play off the bat of Jeff Mathis. It was into the bottom of the fifth and this game had all the makings of a classic pitchers duel. Not to be outdone, Marlins youngster Hand had the Astros held to only one hit through the first four.

More trouble was raised in the top of the sixth when the Marlins lead off with consecutive singles from Christian Yelich and Solano, giving Giancarlo Stanton a huge opportunity to change the game. Keuchel made some of his best pitches of the night, sawing Stanton off with a fastball for out number one to left field. The magic continued when Casey McGehee rolled a tailor made double play to Petit at short. Keuchel dodged two bullets in consecutive innings to keep the game scoreless.

The Marlins broke the scoring drought in the top of the seventh when everything started with a Saltalamacchia line drive to center field. Enrique Hernandez dropped the ball for a one base error. With two outs in the inning Adeiny Hechavarria hit a grounder to shortstop that appeared routine. Petit was just a tad slow on his exchange allowing an infield single. With two on and the inning extended, the catcher Mathis hit a shot to left center off of the bullpen wall to plate two runs. Keuchel escaped with the damage at two and the Marlins lead 2-0.

The Astros offensive woes continued, totaling a mere two hits through seven innings. Most of the time they looked jumpy, eager to swing at any fastball they saw regardless of where it was located. Josh Field checked in for Keuchel in the eighth inning. Fields had a rude awakening by walking Solano and surrendering a hard hit single to Stanton to put two on with nobody out. After retiring McGehee, first baseman Jeff Baker singled to left, loading the bases. Saltalamacchia grounded to Jesus Guzman at first base and he made a heads up play in getting the force out at home. Ozuna hit a deep drive to right field for a hard hit out, and yet again the Astros escaped a possible big inning. The Marlins had 11 hits up to this point but only the two runs, still giving the Astros a chance.

The Astros tasted extra bases for the first time in the bottom of the eighth with a double by Jason Castro into the right field corner. That double would be important in that it got Hand out of the game after seven and one third. Right hander Bryan Morris checked into the game to face Robbie Grossman. Grossman struck the ball well, but had nothing to show for it with a line-out to Stanton in right. Jon Singleton, who did not start the game, came in to pinch hit for L.J. Hoes. Singleton continued to struggle in his 2014 campaign with a swinging strikeout. The Astros squandered their one scoring opportunity of the game and trailed 2-0.

Jose Veras pitched a scoreless inning leading to the Astros into the ninth versus closer Steve Cishek. Cishek was on his game striking out the pinch hitter Marc Krauss, getting Altuve to pop out, and Hernandez to strikeout. That was the conclusion to a pretty lifeless game from the Astros, and a masterful start by Brad Hand. The final was 2-0. The Astros try again in game two as Tom Koehler will take on Jarred Cosart, with the start time at 6:10.