It was a much needed breakout performance for the Astros on Thursday night, who returned home with a mostly full starting lineup and dominated the Angels in Houston, jumping out to an early lead that they would never relinquish.
Angels starter Alex Cobb faced a tight strike zone and struggled through his outing. After managing a clean first, things came unglued for him in the second, which started with a laser of a double from Aledmys Díaz. The slow-starting Myles Straw came to the plate next, and delivered in a big way by doing something he does very rarely: hitting a ball to the pull side. The well-struck grounder went by Jose Rojas at third and rolled into the left field corner, allowing the speedy Straw to make it all the way to third.
Martin Maldonado was next to bat and went down swinging for the first out of the inning, but Carlos Correa brought Straw home on a play that was dubiously scored an error. Cobb bounced back to get Michael Brantley on another swinging strike three, but then put three batters on by way of a hit by pitch and two walks to load the bases with two outs. Yuli Gurriel then worked a full count walk in a terrific at bat to score Correa, and Kyle Tucker put good wood on a ball to follow, but David Fletcher, playing deep on the grass, robbed him of multiple RBIs with a streaking catch in shallow right to end the inning.
The third inning started more auspiciously for Cobb, as he struck out Díaz and got Straw to ground out in the first two plate appearances of the frame. Things went south with two down, though, starting with a double from Maldonado, which was followed quickly by a base hit from Correa to put the Astros ahead 4-0. That prompted a hook for Cobb, who was replaced by Alex Claudio, who wouldn’t fare much better. Michael Brantley squared him up for ground rule double to right, putting Correa on third, and Alex Bregman swiftly brought the pair home with a base knock of his own. Yordan Alvarez went down swinging to end the rally, but the Astros had already put up 6 runs of support for starter Cristian Javier.
While the Angels’ arms toiled, Javier dominated their lineup over five brilliant frames. In a sign of what was to come, Javier got David Fletcher, one of the league’s toughest Ks, swinging. Shohei Ohtani would meet the same fate allowing a cautious approach against Mike Trout, who ultimately walked, but Jared Walsh went down swinging for the third out before a scoring chance could materialize.
Cristian Javier, Filthy 87mph Changeup...and Sword ⚔️⚔️— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 23, 2021
h/t @ChappyIsClutch pic.twitter.com/pxhPHbDw0e
Javier continued to mow down LA hitters in the second, as he struck out the side of Justin Upton, Albert Pujols and Jose Iglesias on 14 pitches, with all three again coming on swings. He’d let up his first hit when he returned to the mound for the third, a leadoff double from Jose Rojas, and Kurt Suzuki followed with a grinder of an at bat, fouling off a total of 6 pitches before ultimately waving at a slider. Javier then got Fletcher in similar fashion to extend his streak of outs via swinging K to eight, on a night when he’d also end up setting a new career high in strikeouts with nine.
Cristian Javier: 6Ks thru 2ip. pic.twitter.com/ABwKlLMini— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 23, 2021
Shohei Ohtani ended the streak with two outs in the third by flying out to shallow center, and Javier faced his first real adversity of the night when he returned to the mound. Mike Trout, leading off the inning, took a nasty HBP on the elbow on an unfortunate play in which he seemingly mistracked the ball before ultimately taking it hard on the elbow. He was in obvious pain and the trainer was out to check on him thoroughly, but thankfully he appeared to avoid serious injury and was even able to remain in the game for a bit. Jared Walsh roped a single to move Trout into scoring position, but Javier recovered impressively with a five pitch strikeout of Justin Upton followed by an Albert Pujols popout and shallow flyout from Jose Iglesias to erase the opportunity.
The Astros rewarded Javier’s efforts with a manufactured run in the fourth. Yuli Gurriel grounded out leading off the inning, but Kyle Tucker followed with a single which spurred a pitching change. Tucker then swiped second with Aledmys Díaz at the plate, and Díaz advanced him with a groundout to short. Myles Straw was able to put the ball in play to the right side of the infield and Tucker came home to make it 7-0 before Maldonado popped out to end it.
By this point in the game Javier was up to 80 pitches already, but he was nonetheless entrusted with the fifth. Jose Rojas squared him up again and got aboard with a leadoff single, but the next three batters all went down on weak contact, preventing another jam from materializing. That would be the end of Javier’s night, concluding perhaps the best start of his young career so far, with 9 strikeouts across five shutout frames with just four baserunners allowed.
The Astros came to the plate unsatisfied in their half of the fifth, and were able to push another run across with the help of a leadoff hit from Carlos Correa. He’d advance on a groundout from Michael Brantley, before being driven in by one of Alex Bregman’s three hits on the night. The Astros went down quietly from there, turning things over to the bullpen with the score 8-0.
Are. You. Joking????? Not a HR pic.twitter.com/xqa2IE8ZOs— Michael Schwab (@michaelschwab13) April 23, 2021
Los Angeles finally got a run across with Javier out of the game, but it came on a controversial play. Bryan Abreu struck out Scott Schebler and induced a Jared Walsh groundout to start the frame, but issued a five pitch walk to Justin Upton to bring Albert Pujols to the plate. He got ahold of one the other way near the right field foul pole, which the umpiring crew seemed to think hooked around it. The play was reviewed and instant replay appeared to reveal that the ball had actually bent in front of the pole, but the call was upheld for one reason or another. Unfazed, Abreu got a groundout from Jose Iglesias to end the inning with the score 8-2.
Though the latter innings were not entirely uneventful, that would be the end of the scoring for the evening. Dusty Baker went with Brooks Raley and Joe Smith, who have both struggled mightily, with the six run cushion, and the moves worked out as both managed to work clean appearances, though Smith did allow a pair of hits. With the Astros unable to muster any further offense, things were quickly turned over to Ryan Pressly and his 0.00 ERA. It got a bit dicey for Pressly when he fell behind Ohtani 3-0 with a man on first, but he battled back for a strikeout before ringing up Scott Schebler to end the game.
The win snapped a three game skid for the Astros, who are now 8-10 and 3.5 games back in the AL West. They’ll look to take the series tomorrow behind Zack Greinke in a 7:10 CT start. The Halos will send lefty Andrew Heaney to the mound.