HOUSTON -- The sample size is undoubtedly small, but after two years of scant success against left-handed pitching, Houston catcher Jason Castro has hit a groove that continues to burnish his All-Star Game credentials.
One game after recording his first career home run against a left-handed pitcher, Castro produced his second, smacking a two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Astros' 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
With the Houston bullpen charged with protecting a one-run lead for a third consecutive game, Castro provided insurance with his shot against left-handed reliever Matt Thornton. The home run, his 10th, ricocheted off the left-field foul pole and lifted Houston (26-44) to a 5-2 advantage.
Castro entered Sunday batting .124 for his career against southpaws. But after smacking a solo homer off White Sox left-hander John Danks Saturday night, Castro followed his fifth-inning single off Chicago left-hander Hector Santiago (2-5) with his timely blast against Thornton.
"I'm feeling comfortable," Castro said. "There's some things I've been working on with some of my pitch recognition and things like that. So I think it's coming along. It's definitely a work in progress. But I feel more comfortable just seeing balls and tracing balls from lefties, and just starting to see more is going to help."
The Astros had been silent since their three-run outburst in the second. With the bases loaded, third baseman Matt Dominguez ripped the first pitch from Santiago into the left-field corner for a three-run double.
Right fielder Trevor Crowe had set the table with a determined 10-pitch at-bat that yielded a one-out walk just prior to Dominguez stepping in.
"A huge at-bat," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "He fouled off some tough pitches as well as some pitches that were really close. And you get into that situation ... the more pitches a guy sees it actually becomes advantage hitter because (the pitcher is) trying to put you away with his put-away stuff and you're just fouling it off, fouling it off, fouling it off.
"It makes the pitcher try to make an even better pitch, and Trevor did a great job of drawing a walk there."
Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel (4-3) worked five scoreless innings before surrendering triples in the sixth and seventh, both of which the White Sox (28-38) converted into runs. Alejandro De Aza drilled a leadoff triple in the sixth and scored when Alexi Ramirez followed with a sacrifice fly to center field. In the seventh, Dayan Viciedo tripled and scored when Jeff Keppinger singled to left field, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
Keuchel was lifted in favor of right-hander Jose Cisnero, who then loaded the bases before striking out De Aza and inducing a harmless chopper back to the mound from Ramirez. With two outs in the eighth, left-hander Travis Blackley fanned Adam Dunn with Alex Rios at second.
"Again, you look at that seventh inning and you want something to happen," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Once you get the bases loaded, you put them in a vulnerable spot. You figure you are going to get at least another one (run) out of that, and you don't. It's frustrating.
"Again, they keep fighting back. I think offense-wise they continue to grind, so that's a good sign."
Astros closer Jose Veras recorded his 14th save, and his third of the series, despite allowing a two-run, two-out homer to De Aza in the ninth inning. Veras retired Ramirez on a grounder to short to cap the win.
The White Sox have dropped 12 of 13 road games, setting an ominous tone for a 10-game road trip that will wind through Minnesota and Kansas City before concluding on June 23. They've been outscored 71-41 during that stretch, offering a clear view of their offensive woes.
"Offensively, we are not getting it done," Dunn said. "If I could sit here and put a finger on why (I would), but I can't. For once, I am speechless. I don't know why our offense is sputtering. We have the talent. We have everyone in place. We just aren't producing."
NOTES: According to Elias Sports Bureau, when Veras picked off pinch runner Jordan Danks to end Saturday night's game, it marked the first time in Houston franchise history that a game ended with an Astros pitcher picking off a baserunner. ... With their 12th loss in 13 road games, the White Sox fell 10 games under .500 for the first time since May 7, 2011.