When the Houston Astros lost right-handed starters Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia to injury in consecutive starts to open this month, their rotation -- already compromised by the absence of right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. -- appeared to be in dire straits.
But instead of their rotation collapsingdue to attrition, the Astros have survived with right-handers J.P. France and Brandon Bielak delivering effectively in a pinch.
Bielak pitched into the sixth inning of the Astros' 5-1 victory over the visiting Minnesota Twins in the second game of a three-game set on Tuesday -- the series finale is Wednesday night -- while making his fifth start since joining the rotation, matching the number of starts France has produced.
During that stretch, France is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA and has recorded fewer than 15 outs only once. Bielak improved to 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA as a starter this season and, like France, has had only one outing in which he failed to complete at least five innings. Both have logged 27 innings in their starts.
"I'm impressed, but this is what you need and what you expect," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "You don't want guys that are just happy to be here. You want guys that are trying to help us win and believing that they can help us win.
"These guys have done well."
Rookie right-hander Hunter Brown (5-1, 3.12 ERA) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Wednesday. He posted a career-high 10 strikeouts against the Oakland Athletics on Friday and allowed two runs on four hits and one walk over a career-high-tying seven innings in a 5-2 win.
Brown has 19 strikeouts over his past 13 innings and two starts while allowing just three earned runs in that span. He leads all rookies in ERA and opponent batting average (.241).
In his lone career appearance against the Twins, Brown allowed one unearned run on two hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over seven innings in a 5-1 road victory on April 9.
Rookie right-hander Louie Varland (2-1, 4.24) will start the rubber match for the Twins on Wednesday. Despite recording a quality start in his outing, a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday, Varland suffered his first loss of the season after allowing three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts over six innings. Varland has surrendered more than three earned runs only once in six starts this season.
Varland will make his first career appearance against the Astros. He is 1-3 with a 4.12 ERA and 32 strikeouts against nine walks in his seven prior starts when facing a team for the first time.
After going 2-for-2 with three walks in the series opener and reaching base safely five times in a game for the first time in his career, Twins first baseman Alex Kirilloff finished 1-for-2 with two walks on Tuesday.
Kirilloff worked a pair of walks in the series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday and has earned multiple walks in three consecutive games for the first time in his career.
"It's better than anything I've seen from him before in that area," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He's talented. We know he can go up there and barrel balls up and find different pitches throughout the zone, but until this point, I hadn't really seen him go up there with the intention of breaking that strike zone down a little bit and focusing on certain areas and just taking pitches in other areas. He's done a good job with it."
--Field Level Media