Musgrove, Astros eye efficiency later in game

Right-hander's longest start this season is 5 1/3 innings

Musgrove, Astros eye efficiency later in game

HOUSTON -- The next step in the development of Astros right-hander Joe Musgrove will be finding a way to pitch deeper into games, which means more efficient pitch counts and navigating through the batting order for a third time with more success.

Musgrove sailed through four innings in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Angels at Minute Maid Park, allowing a solo homer to Andrelton Simmons and three singles. A long fifth inning brought an end to his day, though. A three-run homer by Astros nemesis Albert Pujols capped a four-run fifth for the Angels and sent them on their way to snapping a six-game losing skid.

Musgrove finished the night having allowed five runs, one walk and eight hits while striking out five and throwing 100 pitches.

"He threw a ton of strikes tonight [73 percent], and they were able to foul off a lot of pitches and extend some innings from a pitch-count standpoint," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He never really ever had an easy inning, and that seems to be the case in a few starts this year."

Musgrove has yet to pitch longer than 5 1/3 innings through his first three starts of the season, though the 100 pitches thrown against the Angels is his season high. He threw 27 in the fifth inning, including an 11-pitch battle with Kole Calhoun that ended in a strikeout. Still, the first seven hitters in the Angels' order had four hits when seeing Musgrove for a third time.

"I felt pretty good the third time around," Musgrove said. "I just didn't execute pitches very well."

The recent early exits of Astros starting pitchers -- with the exception of Dallas Keuchel, who has thrown seven innings in each of his first three starts -- has been an issue. In the first seven games of the season, Astros starters were averaging 6 1/3 innings with six quality starts, a .190 batting average against and 2.05 ERA.

In the most recent seven games, the starters are averaging five innings per start with one quality start, a .306 average against and 5.55 ERA.

"That's a bigger topic for our guys," Hinch said. "Obviously the most difficult thing for a starter to do is get through the lineup a third time. That's part of it. Ending at-bats and being a little efficient so that the third time is not pitch 90-110, that's key. Sometimes you have to give credit to the offense. Those guys are battling up there, as well. I thought the team across the way did a pretty good job of extending the at-bats."

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.