By Brian McTaggart and Christian Boutwell
HOUSTON -- Coming off perhaps the worst start of his young career, Astros right-hander Joe Musgrove delivered his best Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
Musgrove allowed four hits and didn't walk a batter in seven scoreless innings and got some clutch relief pitching in the eighth inning from Chris Devenski to lead the Astros to their fourth win in five games, 2-0, over the Orioles.
"I've been doing a lot of work in between all my starts, really, just trying to find what that little missing piece is," said Musgrove, who praised the work of catcher Evan Gattis. "I feel like I found it this week."
Musgrove (4-4) reached two strikes against 14 batters and retired 12 of them. Entering the game, he had given up a .305 on-base percentage in two-strike counts.
"He pitched with a little bit of edge to him," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He was all over the strike zone, and he usually is. I thought the quality of his strikes was a step above where he's been when he's gotten in trouble. I thought the execution of the secondary pitches was the difference in the game. Against this lineup, you can't stay in a pattern and you can't feed them fastballs."
The MLB-best Astros (33-16) have opened up a nine-game lead in the American League West over the Rangers and Angels.
"We swung the bat better than the score would indicate, we made some critical pitches, obviously, when they did get a couple of guys on base," Hinch said. "From Joe Musgrove to winning virtually every critical moment of the game, we get out of here with a win."
The Astros carried a 2-0 lead into the seventh against Orioles starter Kevin Gausman on solo homers by Jake Marisnick in the third inning and Carlos Beltran in the sixth. Devenski allowed three hits to start the eighth before coming back to get three three consecutive outs against the top of Baltimore's order.
"With this lineup, we're always one swing away," Gausman said. "I know those guys are trying to give me runs, but their pitching staff there did a good job of minimizing. Even in that eighth inning, some good pitches by them and Manny [Machado] comes up 10 feet from a grand slam. Obviously, it's a tough loss. But that's the beautiful thing about baseball, we'll play them tomorrow."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Devenski high-wire act saves day: After not being able to muster much against Musgrove, the Orioles rallied in the eighth against relief ace Devenski with three consecutive hits, including two infield singles. But Devenski wriggled his way out of the jam by striking out Seth Smith and getting Adam Jones to fly out to left and Machado to deep right.
"The Machado at-bat was the big exhale as far as the difference in the game," Hinch said. More >>
Strike 'em out, throw 'em out: Musgrove had allowed just two one-out doubles through five innings when J.J. Hardy led off the sixth by reaching on a dribbler down the third-base line. Musgrove struck out Smith as catcher Evan Gattis threw out Hardy trying to steal second for a double play, and retired Jones on the next pitch to quickly end the inning.
"I'm kind of happy about being able to get some of the trust back with some of my teammates and stuff. Not to say that they've been down on me, but it's tough to go out there and put together bad outing after bad outing and feel like your teammates aren't really confident going into that day." -- Musgrove
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Beltran's home run was the 426th of his career, which moves him into a tie with Billy Williams for 50th all-time. Mike Piazza is next on the list with 427.
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles: Lefty Wade Miley (1-2, 2.59 ERA) will get the ball in Game 2 of the three-game series. First pitch is set for 7:15 p.m. ET Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Miley will make his 10th start and has 49 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings this season.
Astros: Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (7-0, 1.84 ERA) will return from the disabled list Saturday and take the mound at 6:15 p.m. CT. Keuchel was placed on the 10-day disabled list following his May 16 start in Miami with a pinched nerve in his neck. He missed one start. More >>