VIERA, Fla. -- Astros right-hander Jarred Cosart, fresh off an eye-opening outing against the Nationals in which he retired all 15 batters he faced, was leaving Space Coast Stadium on Wednesday night when Bo Porter reached out to shake his hand.
"You were decent," Houston's manager said with a smile. "I'll let you know when you're good."
Porter was simply trying to keep Cosart in check after he threw five perfect innings, striking out nine of the 15 batters he faced, in the kind of dominating performance that most have been waiting for the 23-year-old right-hander to make.
Cosart, who's likely to be in the rotation, needed just 62 pitches (40 strikes) to plow through a Washington lineup that included Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. He struck out six in a row at one point. The other six outs came on four tappers back to the mound and two fly balls to center.
"I just think it shows myself and everyone the capabilities that I have and everyone else on the pitching staff [has]," Cosart said. "You know, we're trying to go in this year and prove that last year wasn't a fluke."
Cosart was referring to the second-half performances of the Astros' young pitching corps last year, a group that included Cosart, Brad Peacock and Brett Oberholtzer. He said the team is out to "shock the world" this year, a phrase several of the team's young players have used on Twitter regularly this spring.
"Everyone, same deal the past couple years: the Astros are going to be in last place, we're going to lose 100 games," he said. "We're not throwing out that we're going to win 100 games, but our goal is to shock the world. We don't really know how that's going to be, but to be better than everyone else is expecting is step one."
Performances like this from Cosart regularly this summer would certainly boost Houston's chances of shaking off last year's 111-loss campaign. He went 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last year in his first stint in the Majors, but has tinkered with his mechanics this year, keeping his hands by his waist before his delivery.
One scout said it's the best he's seen Cosart look in terms of his mound presence, poise and pace, which is something the Astros have stressed this year, as he dictated the at-bats. At one point in the first inning, Astros senior pitching advisor Doug Brocail signaled to the mound to pick up the pace.
"In the last bullpen [session], we really found that happy medium of where I need to be," Cosart said. "He told me it's a lot quicker than most people, but for me it works and he thinks it's going to be huge … fast enough, get it, get on the mound, get ready to pitch, not think about it. Because he said it's hard to make mechanical adjustments on the fly, but I've taken to it well, it's big going into comfort, and it's comfortable, so just taking it and running with it."
All-Star catcher Jason Castro, who caught Cosart on Wednesday, said he's never seen Cosart's offspeed pitches more effective.
"His bullpen session looked pretty good, so he came out and it was one of those days where everything was just clicking right," he said. "It was one of those days where the pace had something to do with the way he was pounding the zone. It was nice to see that right from the get-go [that] he was attacking hitters and he wasn't pitching afraid and was really being aggressive. That's the kind of pitcher he is."
Castro said Cosart stayed away from right-handed hitters with fastballs early, and the second time through the order froze them on some hard fastballs inside. The Astros' battery focused on throwing more breaking balls the second time through the lineup.
"Even after he threw a bad one to Zimmerman, he came right back and threw a good one," Castro said. "Those kind of adjustments, to see him make on the fly, pitch to pitch, that's huge. Usually when guys are kind of working through stuff, it might take them a few tries or an inning or two to make an adjustment, but when he's able to throw a bad one and know exactly what he did wrong and get right back to it and throw a good one right after that, that's impressive."
Cosart has also been gripping his curveball tighter earlier in counts, too, while keeping his arm speed the same.
"I tried to do too much on a couple curveballs to Zimmerman when I got behind and then I did it a little too much on the changeup I threw to Harper before I ended up striking him out," he said. "You've got to keep your emotions in check, you got to have everything flowing one speed the whole game and that's what I tried to do. When I got a little quick, I was able to slow myself down."
Porter hasn't announced who will be in the rotation beyond Opening Day starter Scott Feldman, but Cosart certainly appears to be in good shape.
"Jarred was outstanding," the manager said. "He really established his fastball early in the count. I thought he did a much better job commanding his secondary stuff. He did a tremendous job of pitching in tonight. When you have velocity he has and you're able to pitch to both sides of the plate, it makes it that much more effective."