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May 4, 2024 9:12 am

In role reversal, improving Astros host first-place Mariners

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One sign of fortune finally favoring the Houston Astros this season came in the top of the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Clinging to a two-run lead with two runners in scoring position, Houston reliever Ryan Pressly induced a fly ball to medium right field off the bat of Mitch Haniger. One madcap series of throws between third base and home plate later, the Astros completed an inning-ending double play that helped seal their 5-3 win in the opener of a three-game series that will continue on Saturday night in Houston.

“That’s not the way we practice the picks and rundowns in spring training,” Astros manager Joe Espada said of the 9-2-4-1-6-2 rundown. “But we got it done. It’s about getting 27 outs, and we got 27 outs.”

While spiraling toward an opening-month low of 12 games below .500, the Astros routinely found ways to lose games like the one they won on Friday. Their collective focus in erasing Josh Rojas to cap the eighth followed a four-run seventh inning that saw the Astros take the lead without the benefit of a hit leaving the infield.

The seventh featured five walks, two infield hits and a sacrifice fly that resulted in Seattle center fielder Julio Rodriguez and Haniger nearly colliding in right-center.The Astros added a stolen base and scored on a throwing error, but the key hit was a bunt single by Jose Altuve that gave the Astros a 4-3 lead.

“I’ve got to give Altuve credit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Altuve has beaten us in a lot of different ways. He’s never beaten us with a bunt before, you know what I mean? He’s just a heads-up player, and he executed a play late in the game after we gave them the opportunity to put them in that position, and they took advantage of it.”

The win was the fifth in six games for the Astros, who started the season 7-19. Houston, which has appeared in seven straight American League Championship Series, is looking to climb out of the AL West cellar; the Mariners are in first, a half-game ahead of the Texas Rangers entering play Saturday.

“The level of confidence rises when you start playing good baseball,” Espada said. “That’s what happens throughout a long season. Sometimes you start going through stretches where you question yourself. But we’ve just got to continue to remind ourselves of how good we are when we play our style of baseball, doing the little things well. When we do that, we’re a really, really good team.”

Left-hander Framber Valdez (1-0, 2.60 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Saturday. He returned to the Houston rotation on Sunday following a stint on the 15-day injured list (left elbow soreness) and allowed two runs on five hits with a season-high six strikeouts over five innings in an 8-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

Valdez is 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA over 12 career appearances (10 starts) against the Mariners. He faced them three times in 2023, going 0-1 with a 6.60 ERA and 20 hits allowed in 15 innings.

Right-hander Logan Gilbert (2-0, 2.03 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Seattle on Saturday. Gilbert, who ranks second in the American League with a 0.80 WHIP, did not factor into the decision of his last start after allowing two runs on four hits and one walk with a season-high nine strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings in the Mariners’ 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday.

Gilbert is 4-2 with a 3.63 ERA over nine career starts against the Astros. In his most recent appearance against them, he allowed two runs on eight hits and one walk with three strikeouts over six innings in a 10-3 road victory on Aug. 19, 2023. Gilbert defeated the Astros in both of his starts against them last season.

Servais elected to pull starter George Kirby after six innings and 88 pitches on Friday as a precaution. Kirby has been plagued by right knee discomfort recently.

“It’s been kind of bugging me for the last couple of weeks, and I’m pitching through it,” Kirby said.

–Field Level Media

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