As Houston gets set to host the Kansas City Royals on Monday, there have been instances this season where the Astros’ reliance on a three-man bench has limited the options of manager Dusty Baker.
In the finale of a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners Sunday, Baker used pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. as a pinch-runner for slow-footed catcher Martin Maldonado in the 10th inning. Baker had already inserted Chas McCormick, limited to defensive duties by a sore left hand, into right field as a defensive replacement for slugger Yordan Alvarez, whose original spot in the order came up four batters into the 10th and was filled by catcher Jason Castro.
None of the moves paid dividends. Castro, batting for McCormick, was the second of three consecutive batters to strike out with the bases loaded. McCullers was left stranded on third base, and the Astros dropped a 6-3 decision to the Mariners in 11 innings that cost them a shot at a series sweep. Jacob Wilson, the last man on the bench, entered to play third base in the top of the 11th as Aledmys Diaz moved from third to left field and Michael Brantley back to right.
“I did have a very limited bench,” Baker said. “It’s tough with a three-man bench.”
The Astros’ shortened bench weighed on the mind of shortstop Carlos Correa, rung up by plate umpire Brian Gorman on a pitch that appeared well inside for the first out of the 10th. Instead of protesting the call and risking ejection, Correa took a deep breath and trudged to the dugout.
“I tried to keep my composure knowing we don’t have guys on the bench,” Correa said. “When he called it, I was just like, ‘Walk to the dugout, man.’ But that was brutal.”
Right-hander Zack Greinke (11-3, 3.43 ERA) will start for Houston against his original organization in the opener of a three-game home series against the Royals. He did not factor into the decision against the Royals on Aug. 18, having allowed one run on five hits over six innings in the Astros’ 3-2 loss. Greinke did not record a strikeout. Greinke leads the club with 14 quality starts, and the Astros are 12-2 in those starts.
Greinke is 1-2 with a 2.68 ERA over six career starts against the Royals, for whom Greinke went 60-67 with a 3.82 ERA over 210 career appearances (169 starts) from 2004-2010.
Rookie left-hander Daniel Lynch (3-3, 5.12 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Royals in the series opener on Monday. Lynch will make his ninth career start and second in succession against the Astros, against whom he allowed one run on four hits and three walks with five strikeouts over seven innings in a 3-1 home victory on Aug. 17. Kansas City has won four of his five starts since his July 25 recall, with Lynch compiling a 3-1 record and a 2.34 ERA during that stretch. Lynch is 1-2 with a 4.61 ERA in three road starts this season.
The Royals completed a three-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs with a 9-1 win at Wrigley Field Sunday, improving to 6-2 over their last eight road games. The stop at Houston will be the second on a 10-game road trip that will conclude in Seattle.
“That was a relentless offensive attack,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of the 16-hit onslaught against the White Sox. “Guys moving runners over, we were really good at getting guys in. You just look right through that lineup and every guy had multiple times where they did some damage.”
–Field Level Media