HOUSTON -- If there was even a smidgen of concern encroaching after the Houston Astros dropped their first home series in more than a month over the weekend against the Chicago White Sox, it subsided Tuesday night.
Behind a fourth consecutive quality start from ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel, the Astros defeated the Mariners 5-2 and claimed the series against their American League West rivals. Houston (45-39) will pursue the sweep Wednesday night behind right-hander Mike Fiers.
Fiers (6-3, 4.12 ERA) is seeking his fourth consecutive victory after tossing six scoreless innings against the White Sox on July 1. Fiers will face the Mariners for the first time this season and the second time in his career, having allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings in his previous outing.
Momentum is as good as the starting pitcher on any given night, and previous to Keuchel working six strong innings against the Mariners, right-hander Lance McCullers produced his best start of the season in a 2-1 victory on Monday night. With Fiers pitching effectively of late, getting Keuchel into the mix of rolling starters bodes well for the Astros.
"I don't feel like I'm on a roll," said Keuchel, who is 3-0 with a 3.20 ERA over his last four starts -- all Astros wins. I just feel like I'm coming out every start and giving the team a chance to win now and that's a good feeling.
"It was definitely a good first start after the halfway mark and I know it's a long season so there was no panic, there was nothing to be mad at except me making some bad pitches. I'd rather finish well than start well so it's getting there."
For the Mariners (43-41), their concerns are larger than averting a sweep.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker exited a third start early in his last five outings, departing after four rocky innings in which he allowed five runs and three homers, all to left-handed hitters. Walker had his spot in the rotation skipped after leaving consecutive starts against the Rays and Red Sox in mid-June but appeared to rebound against the Orioles last week.
But that optimism was short-lived. Even while warming up in the bullpen, Walker felt discomfort, and it was clear even after the first inning as he gingerly descended the dugout stairs that he was in pain.
"It's been sore for a while, and every time he goes out there, I think you have your fingers crossed that he can get over the hump, and he really hasn't been able to feel good about being on his legs," Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Walker. This game is about your lower half and being able to use it on the mound or in the batter's box."
Mariners left-hander Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 1.50 ERA) will get the ball on Wednesday night. He will be making his third start of the season, having made his Seattle debut on June 24 against the Cardinals. In three career appearances against the Astros (one start), LeBlanc has not posted a decision while recording a 1.69 ERA.