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Astros Coast in McCullers’ Return, Improve to 2-0

Lance goes six strong, Astros’ bats capitalize on shaky defense and pitching from Seattle

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

In his long awaited first big league start since recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lance McCullers Jr. was largely impressive as he led the Astros past the Mariners for a second straight victory. The young righty was a bit wobbly in the early going, including loading the bases in the first, a jam which he escaped by inducing a double play to short, but by the third inning he was on cruise control, showing solid command of his three pitch arsenal. While he did start to catch a little too much plate late in his outing, allowing a deep triple to center to J.P. Crawford in the 5th, who later scored on a groundout, and homer to Kyle Lewis, who also tagged Justin Verlander for a longball on Friday, in the 6th, but it was nonetheless an outstanding return for the young gun, as he collected a quality start and the win for his six innings of two-run ball.

The Astros offense took a similar path on the day, as they were unable to break through against Taijuan Walker for the first few frames. Walker, who like McCullers is working his way back from Tommy John, was not showing his vintage arsenal today. In his heyday as a prospect Walker routinely posted upper 90s heaters and backed them up with a big breaking curveball, but today his heater sat 93-94 and the only “offspeed” offering he appeared to have any confidence in was something in the vicinity of a changeup, which lacked separation from his fastball at 87-90 MPH and didn’t have enough movement to miss bats. This became a big problem for him the second time through the order as the Astros’ bats started to key on the pitch, and Walker frequently fell behind in the count.

The floodgates opened on him in the fourth, as he first allowed a one-out home run to Yuli Gurriel on one of the only breaking balls he attempted on the day, before grazing Carlos Correa for a HBP in a three-ball count and then allowing back to back hits to Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker. This was curtains for Walker, who was replaced by Brandon Brennan, who Martin Maldonado promptly greeted with a loud single off the Crawford Boxes wall, scoring two more runs. The rally was extinguished by a George Springer GIDP, but the damage was more than done by that point. While the Mariners were able to cut into the deficit a bit against McCullers, the runs were quickly answered by the Astros in the bottom of the fifth and sixth, on a Carlos Correa RBI single and George Springer solo shot to left respectively.

The game remained interesting after McCullers’ exit despite the lopsided score, as RHP prospect Cristian Javier took the 7th in his big league debut. Much like Blake Taylor and Enoli Paredes last night, Javier looked comfortable in his first outing with the big club. The only blemish on his line was an infield single by J.P. Crawford, who collected three hits on the day, which was a slow roller into the soft part of the shift on a pitch that badly jammed Crawford. He also collected his first big league strikeout on a fastball to Mallex Smith, and all in all looked like a pitcher ready to contribute as a weapon in the bullpen.

The proceedings wrapped up with rather uneventful outings from Cy Sneed and Roberto Osuna, both of whom were making their first appearances in 2020. Sneed, who has the potential to help out as a multi-inning arm, looked largely sharp, commanding mid-90s heat to the edges of the zone while working around a double, and Osuna made quick work of the 9th with the exception of a two-out triple by Mariners game ball recipient J.P. Crawford. The end result was a 7-2 victory for Houston, who improves to 2-0, and will send Zack Greinke to the hill in tomorrow’s tilt.