McHugh (8-3), who lowered his ERA to 4.80, moved the ball around the zone well, which helped him keep his pitch count down, and he was aggressive early in counts and established his fastball. It also didn't hurt the Astros exploded for 13 runs.
"They put together an inning when they scored those two runs, but he was in control of the game and he was very aggressive," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I thought he pounded the strike zone. I don't know what his first-pitch strikes were, but they seemed to be pretty good. And then he pitched with a lead, which is what we needed."
Hinch asked McHugh after the seventh inning how he was feeling, and the pitcher told him he was throwing as free and easy as he had been in a while.
"So I was eager to get out there again for the eighth, try to save the 'pen a little bit and also be able to finish off my day," he said
McHugh hit trouble head-on in the first when Kole Calhoun singled and Mike Trout doubled with one out. The Astros intentionally walked red-hot Albert Pujols to load the bases for David Freese, who hit into a 6-4-3 double play.
"With the way things have been going, another first inning run [by the Astros' offense], I really wanted to stay away from that," he said. "You could tell, our guys were locked in and swinging the bat well."
McHugh might have gotten out of the game scoreless had been able to field a two-out chopper off the bat of Carlos Perez in the fourth. The ball hit off his hand for a single that loaded the bases for Efren Navarro, who followed with a two-run single.
"We have a lot of confidence in him," Hinch said. "We want to see him be more aggressive and he's been more aggressive. He pitched with a lead and he should come out of this with a lot of confidence having gone eight innings, and I think his highest pitch total of the season. We maintain a pretty good balance around here with our guys and our guys respond favorably."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.