Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole are good buddies, so it’s understandable if both guys felt it was a little bittersweet having to face each other in their first start of the season Friday.
But once you get between the lines, all the emotion and sentiment tends to fade pretty quickly. Charlie Morton struck out George Springer and had a 1-2-3 first inning against his former team. Gerrit Cole followed suit, notching consecutive strikeouts in the bottom half to start his season and then shattered Ji-Man Choi’s bat for a 1-2-3 inning of his own.
OK, Game On.
Morton retired the first four Astros he faced. He then issued a walk to Yuli Gurriel for the game’s first baserunner. Then Josh Reddick drilled a lining basehit the other way to leftfield, which broadcaster Geoff Blum mentioned was an emphasis for Reddick this Spring, in his first at-bat of the season. After an Aledmys Diaz strike out (please come back Carlos Correa), Max Stassi watched strike three and Morton got out of trouble.
Cole struck out the side in the second inning by getting Yandy Diaz and Avisail Garcia swinging and Daniel Robertson looking for his fifth strikeout against his first six batters faced in 2019.
Gerrit Cole looking pretty unfair once again. Five Ks in two innings, four of them on 97-99 mph fastballs right on the edges. pic.twitter.com/smPgcT91K2— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) March 29, 2019
Gerrit Cole averaging 96.8 MPH on his 4 seamer through 2. Topping out at 98.5 MPH— Daren Willman (@darenw) March 29, 2019
The Astros opened the scoring in the third inning, thanks partly to the continued excellence of Tony Kemp in the 9-hole. To start the inning, Kemp was hit by a curveball—a somewhat common occurrence for Morton during his Astros tenure. Kemp then swiped second on the first stolen base attempt of the season for him and the club.
Following a Springer strikeout, Jose Altuve drew a walk and Alex Bregman struck out. Michael Brantley came through with a two-run double down the rightfield line, scoring Kemp and Altuve to give the Astros a 2-0 lead.
The Rays got their first baserunner of the night with a single by Kevin Kiermaier to start the third. The second error by Aledmys Diaz in as many games put runners at first and second for the Rays with one out. Cole got Austin Meadows to fly out to center for the second out, but Tommy Pham battled back from an 0-2 count with a single to left to cut the lead to 2-1, with runners at first and third.
Pham stole second and both Rays scored on a bloop single to center by Choi to give the Rays their first lead of the season, 3-2. A foul popout to Josh Reddick finally ended the inning, but the error by Diaz cost the Astros the lead and forced Cole to throw an abundance of unnecessary pitches. All three runs scored by the Rays were unearned and Cole threw 29 pitches in the third inning after throwing only 25 in the first two frames.
Morton exited after throwing 85 pitches in five innings with 8 strikeouts.
Cleanup hitter Brantley registered his second hit of the night with one out in the sixth off Rays reliever Diego Castillo. Brantley is off to a nice start for the Astros, leading the club in the early stages of the season with 4 hits and tied with Springer with 3 RBI. Yuli followed with a single up the middle on a fastball. And then the GIDP woes resurfaced, as Reddick hit into one to kill the rally.
Cole surrendered a home run to Diaz in the sixth inning to give the Rays an insurmountable 4-2 lead.
The Astros threatened with two outs in the ninth. Jose Alvarado came on in the ninth to close it out for the Rays and quickly retired Gurriel and Reddick on groundouts. Pinch hitter Tyler White slapped a single to right with two strikes and pinch hitter Robinson Chirinos worked a walk to put the tying run on base with Kemp at bat. But Jose Alvarado, the Rays lefthanded closer, proved too difficult a matchup for Kemp, getting him to chase a two-strike pitch in the dirt.
Cole finished with five hits allowed, one earned run, 10 K’s, no walks, and 101 pitches through six innings. It was a really impressive start to the season for Cole.
Gerrit Cole, 98mph Fastball (foul) and 89mph Slider (backwards K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/2KY7ZUg09R— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 29, 2019
Hector Rondon had a 1-2-3 seventh in in his 2019 debut for the Astros. Josh James threw a scoreless eighth and gave up a walk and a hit.
Box score and videos HERE.
Tomorrow, Collin McHugh is slated to start against Tyler Glasnow at 5:10PM Central.