Monday, April 18, 2016

Astros pounce early, hang on to edge Tigers

 Jose Altuve staked the Astros to an early five-run lead by driving in three runs, and they survived three homers allowed by starter Mike Fiers to beat the Tigers, 5-4, on Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park for their first series win of the season.
"Every one matters, obviously, but getting that first series win, it's nice just getting a few wins closer in proximity of each other [in the division]," said closer Luke Gregerson, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth. "The team's playing great. I know we have a few losses that have been really close that we have been right within reach every single time. It's just a matter of time before we start breaking through and winning those close ones."
Behind leadoff homers by Altuve in the first inning and George Springer in the third and a two-run single by Altuve in the fourth, the Astros jumped to a 5-0 lead against Tigers starterAnibal Sanchez. The Tigers slowly chipped away against Fiers.
Detroit cut the lead to 5-3 in the fifth on a solo homer by Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a two-run shot by Ian Kinsler, and J.D. Martinez took his former college teammate deep in the sixth, getting the Tigers to within a run.
"You never want to lose, but they did a nice job getting back in," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. "You know with our lineup, one run on many days won't be enough, but today it was."
The Astros' bullpen combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings behind Tony SippPat Neshek,Ken Giles and Gregerson, who has saved four of the team's five wins.
"We have a really good bullpen that proved again that we can get the outs we need," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Altuve sparks Astros: It's been a quick start to the season for Altuve. The three-time All-Star went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs to lead Houston's offensive attack. Altuve's four homers are the most hit by an Astros second baseman in the team's first 13 games of a season and put him on pace to smash last year's career-high total of 15. More >
"I feel like last year I had a good year and I'm not trying to change my swing," Altuve said. "I'm trying to swing at good pitches."
Sanchez's slow start: The Tigers' starters have been all over the place early in games lately, yet have usually been able to steady the ship and pitch effectively deep into games. While Sanchez survived five frames, he allowed runs in three of the first four innings and put Detroit in an early 5-0 hole. It was a sharp contrast to his first two starts, when he produced clean sheets through five innings before getting hit hard in the sixth. The righty has still yet to pitch into the seventh inning through three starts. More >
"It was difficult today, and I think three good contacts, two good homers and one bringing guys in was the [difference], so it's really tough," Sanchez said.
Keep 'em in the park: Fiers gave up three homers, giving him six long balls allowed this season. That's a troubling trend for the Astros, who have now given up 20 homers in 13 games, which is the second-highest total in the American League behind the Rangers, who've allowed 22. More >
"All I can say is I need to be better," Fiers said. "That's what I've been saying after every start it seems like. I've got to do it and stop saying it."
Surging back: One day after scoring five unanswered runs to erase an early 3-0 deficit, Detroit nearly pulled off another comeback thanks to the long ball. Saltalamacchia's shot was his fourth of the season (he hit a go-ahead two-run homer on Saturday), Kinsler lined one above the elevated left-field fence and Martinez sliced an opposite-field job against his former team. Six of the Tigers' nine runs in Houston came via the home run, and Detroit's 17 home runs are the third-highest total in the American League.
"Our pitchers kept us in there, and we were almost able to come through," Kinsler said. "Just couldn't quite get over the hump today."
QUOTABLE
"He was mad at the call. From my angle, it looked like it was a little up, so I understand the frustration. A close game and he's the go-ahead run." -- Ausmus, on Justin Upton's seventh-inning ejection following a called third strike More >
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Astros have scored a run in the first inning of eight of their 13 games.
Cunning Kinsler
Kinsler pulled a little gamesmanship on the Astros in the fifth inning. With Colby Rasmus on first base and none out, the Tigers' second baseman allowed Tyler White's towering popup to drop on the infield grass. While Rasmus isn't known as a speedy runner, White's lumbering frame was clearly preferable on first for Detroit. The infield fly rule doesn't apply unless there are at least two runners on, and Kinsler took advantage of that quirk to swap Rasmus for White with a 4-6 fielder's choice. More >
"You have an opportunity to get a faster guy off the base," Kinsler said. "Less worrisome for Anibal as far as [Rasmus] maybe scoring from first on a double, you might have a chance at [White] at home. Just want to exchange the speed."
WHAT'S NEXT
Tigers: Detroit gets a day off Monday before starting the final leg of an eight-game road trip in Kansas City on Tuesday night at 7:15 p.m. ET. Shane Greene gets the nod on the mound, and he's looking to build off a two-run effort over six innings in a win at Pittsburgh his last time out. Greene has a 0.69 ERA in two career starts vs. the Royals.
Astros: Houston will take Monday off and travel to Arlington in advance of Tuesday's series opener against the Rangers at 7:05 p.m. CT. Right-hander Scott Feldman will start for the Astros against his former team. He's 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his last three starts against Texas.

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