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Apr 1, 2024 7:12 am

Astros aim for elusive first win in series opener vs. Blue Jays

Houston Astros

Houston Astros manager Joe Espada had no intention of completing the first series of this season with any fresh players, not after the New York Yankees took the first three games of the weekend set.

Espada used two of his high-leverage relievers — right-hander Bryan Abreu and closer Josh Hader — for the second time in as many games on Sunday, with the latter pitching for the third time in the four-game series. Espada used three of the four players he had available off his bench, including Victor Caratini and Mauricio Dubon in the ninth inning facing a one-run deficit.

“Trying to win a game,” Espada said. “Trying to put the guys in the best position to succeed.

“I like the fight, I like the grind. That’s what it’s all about.”

The result wasn’t favorable, with the Astros falling 4-3 to the Yankees for their second one-run loss of the series. All four defeats were absorbed by the bullpen, with Hader saddled with the decision in the series finale after the Yankees fashioned a two-out rally in the top of the ninth inning.

Houston, which will host the Toronto Blue Jays for a three-game set starting Monday night, came up woefully short in clutch situations. The Astros stranded 34 baserunners and finished 8-for-41 with runners in scoring position. The bullpen struggles stood out, but the Astros failed to capitalize on multiple opportunities to build a cushion to withstand the hard-charging Yankees.

“We played hard,” Espada said. “It felt like playoff baseball. If something could have gone our way we could have won two (or) three of those games. But it’s baseball.

“I thought that we played hard. We’ve got a new series starting (Monday) and we’ll be ready to go.”

Right-hander Ronel Blanco (2-1, 4.50 ERA in 2023) is scheduled to start for the Astros on Monday.

He had five separate stints with Houston last season and made his first career start June 1 against the Los Angeles Angels. Blanco had seven starts in 2023, including one in Toronto on June 7 when he allowed two runs on three hits and four walks with five strikeouts over six innings. He did not factor into the decision of a 3-2 loss.

Right-hander Bowden Francis (1-0, 1.73 ERA in 2023) has the starting assignment for the Blue Jays.

It will mark the first career start for Francis, who made 20 relief appearances last season and posted 35 strikeouts and eight walks in 36 1/3 innings. Francis recorded a 0.83 WHIP and a .175 opponent batting average. He has yet to face the Astros in his career.

The Blue Jays earned a split of their four-game road series with the Tampa Bay Rays with a 9-2 victory on Sunday. Toronto thrived despite the late scratch of shortstop Bo Bichette (neck spasms) by following the lead of third baseman Justin Turner, who finished 3-for-4 with a double, home run and four RBIs.

Seven different Blue Jays recorded hits. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. went 0-for-2 but drew three walks.

“It was quality at-bats up and down the lineup,” Turner said. “Guys staying in the zone, taking walks, getting a lot of traffic out there and then cashing in when we got the opportunity.

“If we get a lot of traffic on the bases, it’s going to be a fun year, and this offense is going to do some exciting things.”

–Field Level Media

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