Keuchel, Astros lament fifth-inning woes

Starter's outing is shortest regular-season loss since 2014

Keuchel, Astros lament fifth-inning woes

ST. PETERSBURG -- On one end of the Astros clubhouse, second baseman Jose Altuve spoke about defensive chances squandered.

"As an infielder, you want to make every single play to help your pitchers, to help your team," he said. "We have to understand, too, that this is 162 games. You're going to make a lot of plays, but you're not going to be able make some of those plays."

A short time later, left-hander Dallas Keuchel stood on the other side of the room and offered a curt autopsy of a forgettable fifth inning.

"It's Major League Baseball," Keuchel said. "Can't give extra outs. That's the way things are going."

Things didn't go well for the Astros in the fifth during a 5-0 loss to the Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field. The nightmare frame included the five runs, four hits, two walks, two defensive lapses, one error and a whole bunch of reasons for handwringing later.

The most glaring mistakes happened behind Keuchel, who fell to 3-9 with a 5.54 ERA in 14 starts this year. With runners on first and third base and no outs, Altuve failed to turn a double play on a ground ball from Desmond Jennings when the throw pulled Tyler White off first base. Logan Morrison scored from third on the play.

Then, after Tim Beckham and Curt Casali walked, third baseman Luis Valbuena misplayed a grounder from Logan Forsythe, with Jennings crossing home plate in the sequence. Mikie Mahtook cracked a two-RBI single to center field, and Evan Longoria followed with an RBI single to right to prolong Houston's pain.

"I don't believe in bad luck," Keuchel said. "It's just the way it's going. So I'll stick with it, and I would like for it turn around. If anybody's got any ideas, that would be great."

Keuchel has been far from great against Tampa Bay. He dropped to 0-4 in six starts against the Rays. They're one of just two American League teams he has never beaten -- the Red Sox are the other -- since making his debut in the Majors in 2012.

But early Sunday, it looked like his fortune might change. He allowed one hit and no walks in 54 pitches through four scoreless innings. Then everything unraveled in that 35-pitch fifth.

Jennings scores on an error

The 89-pitch appearance is his shortest regular-season start by pitch count since he threw 88 in seven innings during a victory over the Yankees on Aug. 25, 2015, at Yankee Stadium. The 89 pitches are the fewest in a regular-season loss since he tossed 83 in six frames against the Orioles on May 31, 2014, at Minute Maid Park.

"The big inning, often times, results from a lot of different things," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He had a couple walks in there. They had a couple good at-bats where they got a couple good hits, but then our defense let us down a little bit. So add all that together, and it was a five-run inning where we just couldn't get the inning to end for a variety of reasons."

With Astros hitters handcuffed, Keuchel failed to keep pace with the Rays' pitching effort, headlined by left-hander Matt Moore's two-hit, 10-strikeout outing over seven innings. Keuchel left Tropicana Field frustrated by how the afternoon unfolded.

"From the first pitch to the last pitch, I felt the exact same," he said. "It's disappointing, because Matt Moore was pretty much dominant, and I was doing my job correctly. And then all of a sudden, five runs on the board."

Andrew Astleford is a contributor to MLB.com, based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.