Astros waste strong performance by Keuchel, lose to Phillies
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Left-hander Dallas Keuchel tossed seven scoreless innings, but the Houston Astros wasted his performance as the bullpen was torched for eight runs in an 8-4 loss Wednesday to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Keuchel, who held the Phillies to two hits, finished the spring without allowing an earned run in 17 innings pitched.
''I felt just as strong in the seventh as I did the first, maybe a little bit stronger,'' Keuchel said. ''That's a good sign heading into the first real start of the season.
''This is where the fun starts,'' he added. ''The end of spring it's nice. You get yourself ready, but at the same time it gets kind of long and boring because none of these games or stats count.''
The Phillies used a suicide squeeze bunt by Cesar Hernandez to tie the game at 3 in the eighth. Maikel Franco followed with a go-ahead RBI single, and Andres Blanco hit a grand slam to cap an eight-run inning against Houston's bullpen.
In a matchup between both teams' opening day starters, Philadelphia's offense struggled to get anything going against Keuchel. The Phillies managed only two hits off the reigning AL Cy Young winner.
''He's ready,'' Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. ''He was pretty flawless today. Really every inning. I mean he had a few seeing-eye hits, but we had to push him into the seventh just to get his pitch count and his up and downs ready for next week.''
Tyler Goeddel gave the Phillies their best chance to score against Keuchel. He singled to start the third inning and advanced to third base, but Goeddel was stranded after Keuchel retired the next three hitters.
Jose Altuve's two-out, three-run homer off Jeremy Hellickson broke the scoreless game in the fifth. Those were the only runs Hellickson allowed in his 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one.
''I'm just working on getting outs, not working on too many other things,'' Hellickson said. ''I felt great this spring. Ready for April.''
Phillies: Hellickson had one pitch that cost him in his final tuneup before opening day. A two-seam fastball down and in was crushed by Altuve for a three-run homer. Hellickson, however, isn't concerned about his performance against the Astros. ''I just have to get better still with two outs and guys in scoring position, like today,'' he said. ''That happened too often last year. I have to get the big outs when I need to. Especially with Keuchel going and cruising, he's not going to make too many mistakes. I can't either.''
Astros: Keuchel was pitching as though it was midseason and not his final spring start. In addition to holding opponents scoreless over his 17 innings, Keuchel walked only two batters and struck out 16, including six Phillies batters on Wednesday. His next start is opening day at Yankee Stadium, which he is already anticipating.
''I'm going to be nervous a little bit, but at the same time it's a good nervous because I'm having fun,'' Keuchel said. ''It's going to be a great stage to pitch on.''
Phillies: As the Phillies prepare to set their opening day roster, five players are expected to be put on the disabled list to start the year: OF/IF Cody Asche (right oblique strain), OF Aaron Altherr (left wrist), RHP Michael Mariot (ankle), LHP Mario Hollands (left elbow) and LHP Matt Harrison (back).
Astros: OF Jake Marisnick (right ankle) is expected to play a few innings Thursday and start Friday's exhibition game against Milwaukee. He exited Tuesday's game early because of his injury.
The Phillies re-signed right-handed reliever Edward Mujica to a minor league deal Wednesday, one day after releasing him. Mujica will report to minor league camp Thursday.
HUNTER IMPRESSING PHILLIES
OF Cedric Hunter hasn't been officially given a roster spot, however, his spring performance has left a good impression.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin mentioned Hunter as a player that caught his eye in camp.
''Cedric Hunter has been a good surprise,'' Mackanin said. ''He's given us quality at-bats for the whole spring. I know he's dipped a little bit in the last few days, but he just gives you good at-bats and he plays a solid defense. I like the way he moves around out there. There are a few more days left, but he's the guy that caught everybody's eye. I'm happy for him.''
In Grapefruit League play, Hunter hit .267 with three home runs.
Phillies: They travel back to Philadelphia and then head to Reading, the location of their Double-A affiliate, on Thursday for an exhibition game against a Futures team composed of the top prospects in the organization. RHP Jeanmar Gomez starts for the Phillies.
Astros: They head home to play two exhibition games against the Brewers. RHP Collin McHugh takes the mound for Houston while RHP Jimmy Nelson starts for the Brewers.