Back at .500, Astros eye sweep of Mariners

MLB Baseball

Why was Jose Altuve batting seventh for the Houston Astros on Saturday? It was his request.

Astros manager Dusty Baker revealed after the game that the six-time All-Star and three-time batting champion asked to be dropped in the batting order prior to Houston’s 2-1 win.

Altuve entered play with a .175/.250/.313 slash line with three home runs and nine RBIs. He has been a mainstay in the top third of the Houston batting order for years, but not in the middle game of the series vs. the Mariners.

Altuve finished 1-for-3 with an RBI groundout in the second inning. His single in the seventh snapped an 0-for-8 skid.

“He said the guys ahead of me are swinging the bat better, playing better,” Baker said of Altuve. “He’s a consummate team man. I’ve only had one other player (request to be dropped in the batting order) in my whole career. He did that for the betterment of the team.

“I’ll leave him down there for a few days, and hopefully he’ll start swinging better.”

The Astros improved to .500 with the victory and are attempting to rebound from a ragged, injury-marred start to this abbreviated season. With 40 games remaining in the 60-game schedule, what remains for the Astros is clear.

“We’ve got to concentrate on the next one-third of the season because one-third of the season is over with tonight,” Baker said.

Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (2-1, 6.10 ERA) will start the series finale for the Astros on Sunday.

McCullers made his season debut and picked up the win against the Mariners on July 25. He allowed two runs on five hits and three walks with six strikeouts in his first appearance after missing the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery.

In McCullers’ most recent start, on Tuesday against the San Francisco Giants, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, ultimately allowing one hit over seven scoreless innings.

McCullers is 7-2 with a 2.93 ERA over 12 career starts against the Mariners, amassing 80 strikeouts over 67 2/3 innings.

Rookie left-hander Justus Sheffield (1-2, 5.27 ERA) gets the start Sunday, his fourth of the season, as the Mariners try to avoid the series sweep and end a four-game losing streak.

Sheffield earned his first career victory in his previous outing, working six scoreless innings while allowing four hits and recording seven strikeouts in a 5-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 9.

This will mark his first career appearance against the Astros.

Mariners manager Scott Servais took note of the production of rookie first baseman Evan White over the first two games of this series.

White doubled in his final at-bat in the opener Friday before drawing a walk and blasting a 439-foot home run to dead center field in the eighth inning on Saturday. White is batting just .123 with a .434 OPS, but recent signs are positive.

“I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen the last couple of nights,” Servais said. “I know there’s some strikeouts in there still, but I thought (White was) much better working at-bats and not just hacking at the first pitch. Trying to work his way through some counts with much less effort is what I’m seeing.

“He’s making some steps. You can only chase having a good at-bat and getting a good pitch to hit, and then let your ability take over after that,” Servais said.

–Field Level Media

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