Astros may be capable of a surprise


Photo: Tom Szczerbowski, US PRESSWIRE

Random yet relevant thoughts as the Baltimore Orioles begin a road trip tonight in Houston.

The unaddressed question in the controversy over Jason Hammel‘s ejection from Saturday’s game is this: If the ball that hit Detroit’s Matt Tuiasosopo in the fourth inning, as well as several other pitches, slipped out of his hand, how is he going to handle the next four months of oven-like heat and humidity? Last year, his knee injury put him on the shelf for much of the second half except for a couple of starts in September, and he did not even get to experience the dog days. Hammel’s turn comes up against the Astros on Thursday. He should, if nothing else, be rested, after his umpire-enforced early exit Saturday. The rest of the season should be a concern.

Part of the answer may have appeared the very next day in the person of Kevin Gausman. His six innings of work against Detroit defied some apprehension many could not have been blamed for having after his frightful first two starts. Giving up one run and not walking any Tiger batters was a performance meriting at least one more start. It served notice that if he can reach the point of being that good with reasonable consistency, he is capable of helping the team the rest of the way.

Pitching help from unlikely sources (Miguel Gonzalez and Joe Saunders) gave the team a big boost after the All Star Break last season.

This is an Astros team the Orioles should be careful not to take for granted. The AL East leading Boston Red Sox blazed their way to a 20-8 start in the season’s first month thanks in part to the gift of a four-game series against the Astros at Fenway Park, which they swept. But Houston will send Lucas Harrell to the mound tonight, and if that’s the first time you’ve ever heard the name, he leads the majors with 37 walks in 63 2/3 innings. He takes a 4-6 record and 5.37 ERA to the assignment, as the 21-37 Astros try to keep a six-game home winning streak alive. Chris Tillman (4-2, 4.26) will oppose him.

Houston won all six games on its recent road trip and completed a four-game sweep of the LA Angels of Anaheim with Monday’s 2-1 win behind a strong effort from Erik Bedard and the bullpen. Bedard held the Angels to a run in seven innings, while Wesley Wright, Josh Fields and Jose Veras – names you may be learning more about – combined to throw three shutout innings of relief. 

Tillman has never faced the Astros and is 3-0 in four road assignments this season. Baltimore and Houston are meeting for the first time since the Orioles swept a three-game series at Camden Yards from June 17-19, 2008. The Orioles haven’t played in Houston since losing all three games from June 3-5, 2003.

Chris Davis has posted a .754 slugging percentage through 57 games and was named Monday the AL Player of the Week for the second time this season, following up on his Player of the Month honor in April. According to STATS, the only American League left-handed batter since 1930 to have a higher slugging percentage through 57 games was Babe Ruth (.813 in 1930). Davis’ .754 mark is higher than Bill Dickey (.744 in 1936), Lou Gehrig (.737 in 1930) and Ted Williams (.735 in 1948).

Davis is from Longview, Texas, about a three and a half hour drive from Houston, and one wonders how many tickets he left for family and friends for this series.

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