HOUSTON -- It's the time of year when each start is magnified, good or bad. No one needs to remind Astros right-hander Collin McHugh of the higher stakes of the final few weeks of the season, especially for a team that's trying to chase down a playoff spot.
McHugh, who had posted a 6.15 ERA in his five previous August starts, rose to the occasion Tuesday night and fired six scoreless innings to lead the Astros to a 3-1 win over the A's at Minute Maid Park. He improved to 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his career against the A's.
"This is the home stretch. We all know that in the clubhouse," McHugh said. "We know we've got a little over a month left. You can't start looking at the scoreboard this time of year, you can't start seeing who's doing what. You've just got to take care of business at home and that's what we're focused on doing and that's what we came out to do tonight. But it feels good to have a good outing and be able to help the team, especially in a game their guy is throwing the ball well, too. Our guys put us on the board early and to be able to hold steady is huge."
Astros manager A.J. Hinch said McHugh wasn't sharp early and was spraying his pitches, but managed to get his mechanics clicking as the game wore on. He retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced, finishing with 102 pitches.
"I think after the third or the fourth, I came in and I told [Hinch], I was like, 'Hey, I feel like I'm finally starting to lock it in here,'" McHugh said. "I started to feel sharper with all my pitches, my breaking ball had a little bit more depth to it, my fastball had a little more jump, a little more life and everything was a little bit easier. I told him, 'Hey, I know my pitch count is getting up, some foul balls and long at-bats,' but I felt like I was starting to hit my groove."
And the Astros, who have had inconsistent starting pitching in the second half, are going to need to more of that down the stretch.
"We have a good pitching staff and [it's] sometimes underrated and sometimes we struggle with our command and that gets us in trouble," Hinch said. "The tone has always been set on this team by our starting pitchers, and we've always felt very comfortable with the lead. The tone that the starters have been able to set getting into games, we generally win those games.
"That's not to say we won't come back if they have a bad start -- Mac had a bad start in Baltimore and we come back and win that game -- it's going to be big for our pitchers as we run this gauntlet of the last 30 days to get us into games cleanly."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros /since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.