HOUSTON -- With right-hander Collin McHugh producing six scoreless innings on the heels of the scoreless start delivered by rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove the evening before, the Astros might be on the brink of creating the momentum with their starting pitching that they'll need entering a rigorous stretch of their schedule.
After completing their three-game series with Oakland on Wednesday, the Astros (70-62) will contest a make-or-break run of 13 games against first-place teams in Texas (away and home), Cleveland (away), and the Chicago Cubs (home). And while the Astros will need help from their inconsistent offense and exceptional bullpen, their rotation will set the pace over the next couple of weeks.
"We're going to need our starting pitching to pitch well to get where we want to get," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We're going to expand rosters in September and bring up a little more velocity and have a couple different options, but the tone has always been set on this team by our starting pitchers. And we've always felt very comfortable with a lead so we all have to work in conjunction. The tone that the starters have been able to set getting into games, we generally win those games."
Right-hander Mike Fiers (9-6, 4.40 ERA) will toe the rubber for the Astros in the series finale with Oakland, against whom he has struggled in two starts this season.
Fiers, whose last scoreless start came on July 1 against the White Sox, is 0-1 with a 6.74 ERA against the Athletics, having allowed eight runs on 12 hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts over 10 2/3 innings. Fiers is winless in five career starts against Oakland, going 0-2 with a 4.76 ERA.
Left-hander Ross Detwiler, selected from Triple-A Nashville on Aug. 10, will make his fifth start for Oakland (57-75). Detwiler (1-3, 5.74 ERA) has allowed 14 runs in 14 innings over three starts, all losses, after tossing eight scoreless innings in his first start with the Athletics. He was traded to Oakland from Cleveland on July 17.
Detwiler is 1-0 with a 2.38 ERA in five career appearances (three starts) against Houston. While the Astros are seeking to build momentum through their rotation for a postseason berth, the Athletics are looking toward development, with right-hander Kendall Graveman pitching well yet again despite taking a 3-1 loss Tuesday.
Graveman is 9-3 with a 3.36 ERA over his last 17 starts. Entering Tuesday, his eight wins since June 23 were tied for third most in the American League, and while the Astros bested him with a pair of home runs from Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis, Graveman showed again that he just might be turning a developmental corner.
"This is a guy that we felt like when we made the trade (with the Blue Jays on Nov. 28, 2014) had a high ceiling," Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. "He's shown spurts similar to the ways he's pitching, maybe not this consistent, but he's really taken ownership of the fact that he's the last of the Mohicans here as far as the starters we have and has really pitched like a guy who wants to pitch in the top of the rotation. His numbers would suggest he has here recently."