August 19, 2017 / 3:40 AM / in 10 months

Keuchel stellar over seven innings as Astros top A's

Keuchel stellar over seven innings as Astros top A’s

HOUSTON — The moment arrived early Friday night, that point when Houston Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel wields such impeccable control of his repertoire that all that remains is to marvel at his handiwork.

Keuchel was masterful while working seven shutout innings, pacing the Astros to a 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park.

Keuchel (11-2) had a season-high 16 ground-ball outs while surrendering three hits and one walk. He had three strikeouts while tossing 100 pitches, 67 for strikes.

It marked his second consecutive quality start after a three-start slump that coincided with his return from a two-month stint on the disabled list. Keuchel is 3-0 against Oakland (53-69) this season.

“I thought I was commanding the ball inside when I did go in,” Keuchel said. “There were a few guys I had to go in to get away. That was nice to see just for the extension purpose and to see the way the ball comes off the hand. I felt like I was back in midseason form. Happy all around with what I saw out of myself.

“I still can clean up the slider a little bit. That will come with time.”

Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve slugged back-to-back home runs off Athletics left-hander Sean Manaea (8-8) in the third inning to provide Keuchel a bit of a cushion. Bregman smacked his 14th home run the opposite way to right field and Altuve belted his 19th homer to left.

“We were trying to go up and in and I just left it right over the middle of the plate,” Manaea said of the pitch to Altuve. “Especially to a guy like that you can’t do those kinds of things. As soon as I let go of it I kind of knew it was going to be a bad pitch. He put a good swing on it and unfortunately it was a home run.”

Josh Reddick added an RBI single off Manaea with two outs in the sixth, driving home Yuli Gurriel. Houston (75-47) scored all of its runs with two outs and improved to 11-2 against Oakland this season.

Astros closer Ken Giles had his second multi-inning save of the week, inducing an inning-ending double-play grounder from pinch-hitter Matt Olson to cap the eighth before striking out the side in the ninth. Giles, who had a six-out save at Texas on Sunday, picked up his 24th save.

Keuchel entered his 16th start of the season leading the major leagues in ground-ball rate. By the close of his first inning, the direction that his performance was trending was quite clear.

Keuchel retired the side in order in the first inning on ground-ball outs. He added two more groundouts in the second, worked around a Matt Joyce bunt single against the shift with three ground-ball outs in the third, and retired the side in order again on groundouts in the fourth.

“Some guys that haven’t seen him much in the past, you can look at video all you want until you get into the box and realize how much his ball moves,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said of Keuchel. “It’s kind of an acquired taste.”

Even when Keuchel ran into a bit of two-out trouble in the fifth, he had the ground-ball out in his pocket ready to aid his escape. With two runners on base, including Matt Chapman after his two-out double, Keuchel got Dustin Garneau to ground sharply to shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who turned a nifty stop and accurate throw into another scoreless inning.

Gonzalez and Bregman produced a handful of solid defensive plays, efforts reflective of how an effective Keuchel keeps infielders on their toes. In concert, the performances were sublime.

“You see all the plays that Bregman played (at third base), the plays that Marwin made, even Yuli (at first) on a couple inside-out swings, you’ve got to be active to play infield behind Keuchel,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “We know it, he knows it, and he does a good job of keeping his infielders in the game.”

NOTES: The Athletics are in no hurry to reinstate C Josh Phegley from the 10-day disabled list after he made his first rehab start on Wednesday for Triple-A Nashville. Phegley has been on the DL since July 25 with a strained left oblique and the Athletics are committed to Phegley making multiple appearances with the Sounds. ... According to published reports, the Astros informed more than a half-dozen scouts that their contracts would not be renewed at season’s end. GM Jeff Luhnow described the moves as a reconfiguring of the scouting department. ... Home plate umpire and crew chief Jerry Layne departed with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning after taking a foul ball off his left hand. Dan Bellino, who opened the game at second base, replaced Layne, who was diagnosed with a hand contusion, behind the plate.

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