HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros figured they had something special in third baseman Matt Dominguez, but, as a whole, their infield defense has provided a bright spot in an otherwise dreary start to the 2013 season.
Houston turned three more double plays Monday night and closer Jose Veras continued his exceptional pitching as the Astros sent the Kansas City Royals to a fourth consecutive loss with a 6-5 win at Minute Maid Park.
Veras has allowed an .098 average to opposing batters over his last 13 appearances, and he notched his seventh save while preserving the first victory for left-hander Dallas Keuchel (1-1). Veras was the fourth Astros reliever charged with cobbling together the final seven outs in support of Keuchel, whose six strikeouts matched a career high. The Astros (13-32) also increased their major-league-leading total of double plays to 60.
"That's a credit to Dallas as well as being able to induce those ground balls," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "The ability to pitch to both sides of the plate, the ability to use your off-speed stuff when you are behind in the count helps get ground balls. Dominguez, (second baseman Jose) Altuve, Gonzo (shortstop Marwin Gonzalez), they've been outstanding. Two really big double plays where they were threatening and we were able to turn double plays and get out of big innings."
Keuchel worked around a pair of base runners in the first and fifth innings with inning-ending double plays. In the sixth, he erased Eric Hosmer after Hosmer stroked a leadoff single when Jeff Francoeur rolled into a double play initiated by a fabulous play by Dominguez.
"They're always great," Keuchel said of his defense. "I have faith in them anytime, and I try to get as many ground balls as possible. I'm always looking to let them make good plays."
Hosmer and Francoeur smacked back-to-back one-out doubles in the eighth inning to cut the deficit to one run. But Astros right-hander Hector Ambriz retired Miguel Tejada and Elliot Johnson in succession to strand Francoeur in scoring position as the Royals (20-21) suffered their fourth straight one-run loss despite matching their scoring output from the three-game weekend series sweep in Oakland.
Right-hander Jeremy Guthrie (5-2) took the loss for Kansas City.
"We had some opportunities where if we got a big hit, who knows," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Any time you lose a one-run game, you go back and look at the opportunities where you missed throughout the game. There were no glaring opportunities, but the way things are going right now, we're struggling to get that hit."
For a spell, Keuchel seemed cursed by soft line drives, with Johnson driving in Hosmer with a flare to left field in the second inning and Francoeur setting the table for Tejada with his soft single in the fourth.
Tejada struck a powerful blow after the Francoeur one-out hit, ripping a three-run blast to left field that erased the Astros' 3-1 lead. The homer was the first for Tejada, who was making his second appearance of the Royals' nine-game road trip, since his solo shot at Petco Park against the San Diego Padres on July 16, 2011, while with the San Francisco Giants.
"Right now, for me, even if I get a hit, it's great," Tejada said. "When I get an opportunity, I just want to help my team win a game. I'm excited to hit a home run, but I'm just trying to do my best to help us win."
Houston matched the Royals' three-run frame with a three-spot in the bottom of the fourth, with their third baseman also striking the telling blow. Dominguez followed a one-out walk to Carlos Pena and a subsequent single by Jimmy Paredes with a three-run homer to left field, his fourth of the season, and Houston reclaimed its two-run lead at 6-4.
NOTES: Royals starters had worked at least six innings in 30 of 40 games this season, including three consecutive quality starts during their weekend series at Oakland. Guthrie lasted just five innings against the Astros, allowing six runs on eight hits (including two home runs) and three walks with two strikeouts. ... With his first-inning single, Alex Gordon extended his hitting streak to eight games, included all seven games of the Royals' current road trip. ... Astros right-hander Paul Clemens entered Monday ranked third in the majors in innings pitched by a reliever with 27. He recorded the final out of the seventh inning.