The Houston Astros are clinging to a winning record despite being forced to use an inexperienced, injury-depleted and overworked bullpen, so Monday's day off was more than welcome.
Houston played extra innings in three of its last four games, and it had to turn to Framber Valdez, Tuesday's scheduled starting pitcher, for 6 1/3 innings of relief in a 6-5, 11-inning win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday in Anaheim, Calif.
After a much-needed day of rest for its bullpen Monday, the Astros face the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
"(There is) a lot of difference between 5-4 and 4-5. We certainly didn't want to go below .500," manager Dusty Baker said after Houston's win on Sunday. "It was a great game for us. We got some key hits out there. Boy, we're all tired."
It stands to reason why the Astros are in need of a rest. The shortest amount of time it has taken them to play a game since last Wednesday is 3 hours, 58 minutes on Saturday, in a game that went 10 innings. The other three games have lasted more than four hours each.
The Astros, Baker told the Houston Chronicle, could go with 23-year-old right-hander Cristian Javier (0-0, 1.35 ERA) as their starting pitcher for Tuesday. The rookie pitched well in his first start, allowing a run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.
Michael Brantley leads the team with a .438 batting average as well as with eight runs, 14 hits and a 1.170 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
On the flip side, stars George Springer and Jose Altuve have struck out a combined 19 times in 71 at-bats, and both are batting well under .200 on the season.
The Astros draw a team looking to turn its season around fast, as the Diamondbacks are in last place in the National League West. Arizona dropped three of four games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in its most recent series and needed a late rally in the second game of the set to avoid being swept.
The Diamondbacks have lost four of their past five games overall. They haven't scored more than five runs in any of their 10 games, and they were shut out Sunday for the first time this season.
Ace Madison Bumgarner (0-1, 4.09 ERA) hasn't been dominant the way he was for years in a San Francisco Giants uniform, though to be fair, the lefty has just two starts to his name with Arizona. The Diamondbacks turn to Bumgarner against the Astros on Tuesday night.
"These are tests for our team and our players right now," Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. "We're going to keep fighting. That's all we know how to do. We're going to grind through these tough times. We know that better days lie ahead, but to get there, we've got to accomplish some things piece by piece and day by day, we've got to keep working."
The Diamondbacks have hit just two home runs as a team, by far the fewest in the majors, and are batting .192 as a team. Lovullo has spoken of his players pressing and trying to do too much.
"We're extremely frustrated right now, and I know that our fans who are probably watching these games see that frustration," Lovullo added.
--Field Level Media