Astros righty induces ground ball back to the mound to end fourth
By Chandler Rome
HOUSTON -- With a run already allowed in the fourth and his team facing Rays ace Chris Archer, Astros starter Collin McHugh could ill afford another slip up. It's what happened, though, on an 0-1 pitch to Kevin Kiermaier.
McHugh's spike got caught in his delivery, but the righty recovered to throw a 54-mph cutter. Kiermaier grounded it harmlessly back to McHugh, who tossed to first baseman Marwin Gonzalez for the third out of the inning, stranding Desmond Jennings at first. The Astros lost, 1-0, after Archer fired a complete-game one-hitter.
"I don't know if I'm more impressed that he threw it for a strike or that he fielded his position," said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. "I think both are rarities when it comes to that. That was a very effective pitch."
McHugh was more impressed with Kiermaier.
"I was impressed he swung at it," McHugh said. "More of a reaction thing."
It was deja vu of sorts for McHugh, who had a similar mishap at home last season against the Rays. Trailing 2-0 in the fourth inning on June 13, 2014, McHugh fell off the mound while throwing a curveball to Matt Joyce, who took the called strike to run the count full.
The strange inning-ending play was preceded by another unusual out from McHugh, who backhanded James Loney's sharp grounder back to the mound on the first pitch of the inning. Loney hit the ball at 80 mph, per Statcast™, but McHugh got his glove up just in time to snare it and toss to Gonzalez for the first out.
After the zany inning, McHugh retired nine of the next 11 hitters he faced, allowing just two singles -- a valiant effort to keep the Astros within reach of Archer.
"No margin for error with Archer and the way he was throwing tonight, and McHugh was matching him inning by inning and had good stuff, good finish on his pitches," Hinch said. "He had all of command. A true pitchers' duel that their guy was just better."
Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.