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Astros 1, Royals 5: Astros Can’t Solve Vargas, Fall in Series Opener

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Mike Fiers kept Houston in the game Friday night, but his opponent was excellent to earn the W.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles
Mike Fiers was shaky in his first turn of the season
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Astros now hold a still-strong 3-2 record, their offense is yet to truly show up through 5 games. In Friday night’s contest, they were completely stymied by journeyman starter Jason Vargas who allowed just one run in 6 frames while holding the Houston offense almost entirely in check.

In a matchup of two soft throwers, Vargas did a much better job of locating the ball within the strike zone, peppering the lower half of the zone with two-seamers and changeups to induce swinging strikes and weak contact. Fiers struggled to throw strikes as consistently with more bad misses and lost several pitches over the plate resulting in hard contact.

Fiers was in trouble often during his five and two-thirds frames of action tonight, allowing five hits and walking another three batters. He made a bad mistake to Salvador Perez leading off the second inning which the Royals backstop promptly deposited into the seats. He was able to strand runners tonight and limit the damage, but can’t bank on being as lucky next time out.

With the news that Collin McHugh is being held out of action with potentially serious arm issues, Fiers is now locked into the rotation regardless of his performance. The team will need both he and Joe Musgrove to be better than they were in their first turns to remain in the black as the season continues as both figures to make lots of starts during the early season.

The lone bright spot for the Astros on offense was Carlos Beltran, who slotted in at DH tonight. He went 2 for 4 with a double, the team’s only extra-base hit, that drove in the only run for Houston, and did not strike out in the contest. The double and RBI were both the first in a Houston uniform for Beltran since his historic 2004 run with the team. Beltran will continue to play around 5 times a week, splitting time between DH and the outfield.

Jose Altuve’s frustrating start to the season continued as he struck out twice in a 0-4 performance, and may be pressing a bit. He has been prone to short slumps in the past and should return to All-Star level performance in short order. Alex Bregman had a solid night at the plate, singling and drawing a walk in four appearances.

Jandel Gustave, who walked three straight batters in the extra-innings affair against the Mariners earlier in the week before being removed, beat up tonight in an inning and two-thirds, allowing three runs. Though he was hurt by a passed ball and infield hit, he allowed a two-run double to Alex Gordon that put the game out of reach. To his credit, he was able to rebound with a strikeout of Mike Moustakas and was more in control of his hard fastball tonight than in his last appearance. The Astros hope he can develop into a late-inning fixture.

The Astros and Royals will face off again tomorrow with both teams trotting out their #1 starters. With Dallas Keuchel on the mound, a win should be well within reach if the Astros’ offense can start to gel.