Houston Astros manager Brad Mills(notes) was impressed with the way Henry Sosa(notes) went after hitters in his last start, though the right-hander’s first major league win didn’t feature much in the way of strikeouts.
Facing the Pittsburgh Pirates could help Sosa miss a few bats.
Sosa looks to build on his first victory Tuesday night against the visiting Pirates, who added to their MLB-high total since the All-Star break by striking out 16 times in the series opener.
Sosa (1-2, 5.09 ERA) was acquired by the Astros (45-90) last month in the deal with San Francisco for infielder Jeff Keppinger(notes), and he didn’t do a whole lot to impress while going 0-2 with a 6.35 ERA in his first three starts.
He showed considerably more promise in his fourth. Pitching on three days’ rest Thursday at AT&T Park, Sosa held the Giants to a run and four hits over six innings in a 3-1 victory.
“The way he went after hitters was very impressive,” Mills told the Astros’ official website. “The first couple of times out, maybe he was just trying to get his feet wet and kind of feeling for it a little bit, but tonight he wasn’t feeling for it.
“We saw the arm everybody had seen at Double-A and had heard about, and he went after the guys with all of his pitches.”
Sosa only struck out three against the Giants, but there’s no question he’s capable of fanning a few more hitters after averaging 8.1 per nine innings in his minor league career.
Facing the Pirates (62-72) has been a prime opportunity for any pitcher to bolster his strikeout total. Pittsburgh entered Monday’s game with a major league-high 374 strikeouts since the All-Star break, then whiffed 16 times against Wandy Rodriguez(notes) and Houston’s bullpen in a 7-4 loss.
“Offspeed, offspeed, offspeed,” Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen(notes) said of Rodriguez, who struck out a career-high 13. “It was all fastball and curveball or slider or whatever you want to call it. That’s basically all he did. He was getting ahead by us chasing a lot of his offspeed.”
The Pirates have won five of seven games at Minute Maid Park this season, but when they’re not scoring runs, they seem to be striking out. Pittsburgh has whiffed 86 times in 254 at-bats - more than one-third of the time - in those contests.
Instead of the strikeout, Charlie Morton(notes) (9-7, 3.63) relies on a sinker that’s helped him record the majors’ top ground ball percentage (77.6), but there was no action on his go-to pitch Thursday at St. Louis. The right-hander, who had a 0.95 ERA in his first four August starts, gave up five runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 innings in an 8-4 loss.
“Even if you are tired you should be able to throw a sinker,” Morton said. “I guess I just wasn’t throwing it the correct way.”
Morton was 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts against the Astros coming into this season, but his sinker has been a bit more effective in 2011. He’s 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA in three outings versus Houston this year.
The Astros have the same record through 135 games that the Pirates had in 2010, though Pittsburgh at that point had been outscored by 113 more runs than Houston’s current differential.