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Musgrove guides Astros in rout of Athletics
HOUSTON -- From his opening inning Monday night, Astros rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove showcased the intensity and determination that served him well during his first two career appearances and seemingly deserted him in a pair of difficult outings during a road trip that carried the club through Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Musgrove pitched with purpose into the sixth inning and the Houston Astros claimed the series opener with the Oakland Athletics 6-0 at Minute Maid Park.
Musgrove (2-2) worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. His scoreless start represented a rebound from consecutive struggles against the Orioles and Pirates, and the Houston bullpen protected the two-run margin that Musgrove delivered when he departed in the sixth.
"That's the kind of pitcher I am," Musgrove said. "I have to be the guy who goes as hard as he can as long as he can. The last couple outings I found myself trying to pace myself trying to get to the seventh. I did a lot of work this week making mechanical adjustments and told myself to go out there and give it everything you have as long as you can and let the bullpen take over from there."
Luke Gregerson, making his first appearance in 11 days, induced a double-play grounder to stifle an Oakland (57-74) rally and close the sixth before Pat Neshek and Brad Peacock preserved the shutout with a combined three frames of relief.
The Astros (69-62) mustered some insurance down the stretch, with second baseman Jose Altuve belting his 22nd home run leading off the sixth before Alex Bregman added a two-run single off J.B. Wendelken with one out in the seventh.
Carlos Correa drove home George Springer with a single to cap the seventh-inning outburst. Oakland right-hander Chris Smith was charged with all four runs in relief.
Five batters into his start, Athletics rookie starter Sean Manaea (5-9) appeared poised for a second consecutive exceptional appearance. But a succession of ground balls at Oakland third baseman Ryon Healy changed the complexion of the game, with Yulieski Gurriel reaching on a two-out infield hit to third before Healy booted consecutive ground balls to load the bases for Astros center fielder Jake Marisnick.
Manaea followed by issuing back-to-back, bases-loaded walks to Marisnick and Springer before rallying to strike out Bregman to cap the second inning. The errors resulted in a 2-0 deficit and added 21 additional pitches on the Manaea ledger.
"That was the most frustrating part. After the first error happened, I told Sean give me another one," Healy said. "He did his job, he gave me another one and I didn't come through for him. That was probably the hardest pill to swallow right there."
After retiring the Astros in order in the third inning, Manaea departed with a left rhomboid strain with one out in the fourth.
"Today was the first time," Manaea said. "It happened in the second inning. Just halfway through I felt it on the left side of my spine and it kind of shot through to my shoulder area and that's when I really felt it. That next inning just throwing my warm-up pitches I couldn't really warm-up."
Musgrove faced the minimum through three innings, inducing a double play off the bat of Athletics second baseman Max Muncy to erase Jake Smolinski, who reached base after Musgrove hit him with a pitch with one out in the third. Musgrove pitched around two runners in the fourth inning and ran into significant trouble in the fifth, loading the bases with one out before rallying with a pair of critical strikeouts.
"That was the biggest inning of his night," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He did all he could to get into the sixth and then Gregerson obviously bailed him out with the double play. Good effort and one that we needed, one that he needed."
NOTES: Astros 3B Yulieski Gurriel made his first start in the field after four as the designated hitter and two additional pinch-hitting appearances. Gurriel had worked out recently in left field, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch wanted to play Gurriel, a third baseman during his career in Cuba, at a position of familiarity. ... Athletics DH Billy Butler was reinstated from the seven-day concussion disabled list but was not in the starting lineup. The club optioned UTIL Arismendy Alcantara to Triple-A Stockton to clear a roster spot for Butler. ... Astros RHP Lance McCullers played catch on Monday, extending his tosses to 60-90 feet. He is inching his way toward intensifying his throwing program, but there are no assurances that he will pitch again this season. McCullers landed on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow discomfort on Aug. 3.