When Houston right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. worked six strong innings in the Astros’ 3-1 home victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, it marked the first time an Astros starter had recorded at least 18 outs since McCullers accomplished the feat six days earlier.
As a result of McCullers’ length and handiwork, Astros manager Dusty Baker deployed his high-leverage relievers in the preferred sequence: Ryne Stanek, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly.
With Houston grinding through a stretch of 17 games in 17 days, starter length is welcome. The Astros will open a four-game series at the Texas Rangers on Monday night.
“It saves the majority of our bullpen also,” Baker said. “You don’t usually line that up in that fashion for multiple days in a row, but that’s what you yearn for. You hope to (get) seven out of your starters. We need them, especially during this stretch here, to put us in (position) to not have to use your whole bullpen every night. You’re always rooting for your starters to take you deep into the game.”
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.28 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Monday. He has worked five innings in each of his last three starts and hasn’t recorded more than 17 outs since pitching six innings in a 4-0 loss to the New York Yankees on July 9. He is 3-3 with a 4.94 ERA over the subsequent 10 starts, with the Astros going 6-4 during that stretch.
Odorizzi is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA in 11 career appearances (10 starts) against the Rangers with a 3.29 ERA in three appearances (two starts) this season. He has not recorded a decision against Texas in 2021.
Rookie right-hander Spencer Howard (0-3, 6.21) will start the series opener for Texas. It will mark the second start for Howard since he returned from the COVID-related injured list, with Howard retiring the six batters he faced in a tandem role with Jordan Lyles in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 7.
Howard, who has yet to face the Astros, has allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings in two home starts since being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline.
The Rangers completed a nine-game trip at 6-3 with a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics Sunday, their sixth win in seven games. For a team that entered the series finale with the second-fewest wins in the majors since the All-Star break, Texas and its recent resurgence represent the quintessential example of a once-struggling squad embracing the role of spoiler.
“You look at the two teams playing against each other, and you would assume we needed to win this game to make the playoffs,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “That’s the way we’re playing right now, and it’s been fun to watch. That’s the one thing that we demand every time they go out there. We’re actually executing a lot better than we were in previous games.
“For these guys to come together and keep consistently grinding every night has been awesome to watch.”
— Field Level Media