Righty labors with slider, extending Astros' rotation woes
By Fabian Ardaya
CHICAGO -- Although the first-place Astros didn't go out and add a starting pitcher to their rotation at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, they effectively got the same thing with the return of Collin McHugh from an elbow injury that had sidelined him all season.
McHugh, making his fourth start of 2017, was roughed up by the White Sox on Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, allowing seven runs over 5 1/3 innings as the Astros fell, 7-1.
The right-hander's performance -- one day after former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel allowed a season-high eight runs in four innings -- provided little reprieve for a starting rotation that entered Wednesday ranking 23rd in the Majors with a 5.50 ERA since the All-Star break, after ranking sixth with a 3.82 ERA in the first half.
The Astros are 2-6 in August and 11-12 since the All-Star break, in part due to their struggles in the rotation.
"I think we're past the stage where he's in the Spring Training thing," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He was an effective pitcher tonight. He pitched out of one huge jam early. They just put up a couple big innings."
McHugh said he struggled from the start with command of his slider -- a new pitch he's featured prominently this year -- but he managed to cruise through the early stages of the game even after getting out of a painful second-inning jam.
After allowing back-to-back walks, McHugh took a lined shot from Nicky Delmonico off his left foot for an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. McHugh convinced the trainers to leave him in, then proceeded to strike out Tim Anderson on a curveball and get Omar Narvaez to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"Got me a little bit on the instep, little bit on the sole of my foot," McHugh said. "Wasn't a direct blow. Stung a little bit, but didn't really tighten up or anything. It was a big couple plays to get out of that inning and keep it where it was at."
The lack of slider command bit him in the fifth, as Delmonico singled again to set up Anderson. This time, McHugh hung a slider that Anderson drilled into the left-field stands to open the scoring. By the time the inning was over, two more runs had come across on a Yolmer Sanchez single. McHugh departed with another run across in the sixth and two runners on, both of which scored against Francisco Liriano.
"He just lost his command," Hinch said of McHugh. "He got into some counts he couldn't escape. There was a walk in there, a couple big hits. He hung the breaking ball to Anderson. Just a few mistakes midgame where he got burned and he got hit hard and he couldn't keep them off the scoreboard. Not his night."
McHugh entered Wednesday having used his slider about 22 percent of the time in 2017, allowing just a .083 batting average against it. He didn't induce a swing-and-miss on his 14 sliders Wednesday, and allowed three balls in play -- including the Anderson homer.
"I knew after the first couple innings that I had hung a couple," McHugh said of his slider. "It just kind of backed up into the zone. Got me in trouble a little bit.
"I felt pretty good the last couple outings. I think my stuff has been good, my command has been pretty good. Today, it wasn't."
Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago and covered the Astros on Wednesday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.