Astros Ride Power Surge, Bullpen To 4-3 Win Over Orioles

Houston (CBS HOUSTON) — After a start to the 2016 campaign full of frustrating losses and an inconsistent offense, the fun has returned — at least for one series.

That’s right, #CrushCity is back in Houston.

Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena each cranked out a home run, backing up Collin McHugh’s gritty, if uneven, outing as the Astros earned a series victory with a 4-3 win against Baltimore on Wednesday in Minute Maid Park.

Houston moved to 19-28, but there continue to be strong glimmers of hope with this team. It starts, right now, with Gattis.

The slugger completed a Minor-League stint early this month to build back toward being a catcher, and he’s been ripping the ball ever since.

He gave the Astros a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning with an absolute screamer that barely cleared the high left-field wall into the Crawford Boxes.

“Happy I laid off the cutter away before and then just turned on one a bit,” Gattis said. “Wasn’t sure it was going to get there, but they’re going out right now.”

Gattis has now hit four home runs and recorded a hit in seven of eight games since returning from his stint in Corpus Christi.

“He’s a real threat, he’s a real danger, especially in this ballpark when he doesn’t have to try to do too much to pull,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “Anything he hits to left is essentially off that scoreboard or over. And that brings some comfort for him.”

Things got rocky in the sixth, though, as McHugh stumbled following a dominant stretch in the middle innings.

The righty allowed consecutive singles to open the frame, with both advancing an extra base on an E7 by Tony Kemp, part of a sloppy night defensively for both sides.

McHugh bounced back with a strikeout. But a wild patch — one Gattis arguably should have had — brought home a run. Another followed on an odd in-between dribbler down the first-base line that tied the game up.

It was still an encouraging outing for McHugh, who lasted 5 1/3 innings and allowed three earned runs while striking out 10 batters in 105 pitches. It was the third double-digit strikeout game of his career.

“We made a couple mistakes they made us pay for, a couple extra-base hits that come back to haunt you, but I think we did a pretty good job,” McHugh said. “Overall, we executed our game plan well and we came up with some timely hits and really put a complete game together.”

Valbuena made sure it was good enough.

The bat-flip fiend has made them count on consecutive nights now, and this one may have been more crucial. The lefty took a 90-mph fastball the opposite way, barely clearing the elevated home-run line beneath the arches in left-center field with two outs in the sixth for his fourth home run this season.

“The best sign is that he used the opposite field,” Hinch said. “With both Marwin and Valbuena over there we can find our competitive advantage. Louie has scuffled to the point of trying to do anything … He’s been working hard to try to contribute towards the bottom of the order.”

That set the stage for the Astros’ improved back-end of the bullpen. Ken Giles was again filthy, and his early struggles are starting to feel like an eternity ago.

Giles struck out the side, working around a one-out walk. He’s now recorded nine straight scoreless appearances — all against .500+ teams in Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Texas and Baltimore — and fanned nine in his last 4 1/3 innings of work.

Will Harris kept it rolling in the eighth, locking down his 20th straight shutout appearance by escaping a two-on, two-out jam in the eighth.

Luke Gregerson alleviated some concern about his form, notching his 10th save of the year with a scoreless ninth. He’d blown saves in three of his previous six outings and still may face pressure for the closer’s job from Giles and Harris.

“I just want the guys to get the outs when we need it,” Hinch said. “I’m a matchup-oriented manager so I use the guys in a fairly consistently soft roles, roles that are in pencil. But I’m really happy with the depth of our pen, with the way they’re pitching.
“We don’t necessarily have to have a weakness, and I like the fact that I’ve got options more than roles.”

The Astros claimed the series from the second-place Orioles and go for the sweep with Lance McCullers on the bump on Thursday night, opposing hard-throwing righty Kevin Gausman.

More from Chris Abshire
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