HOUSTON (AP) — Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros hope his latest start is a big step in the right direction.
After another loss Friday night, a 2-0 setback to the Miami Marlins, the Astros are a season-high 19 games under .500. Keuchel, though, pitched seven strong innings in defeat.
Miami starter Brad Hand was even better, tossing three-hit ball into the eighth inning. Jeff Mathis hit a two-run double for the Marlins, who have won five of six.
Keuchel (9-7) gave up four runs or more in each of his previous five starts. But this time, he allowed only two runs — none earned — and nine hits with seven strikeouts.
"I was just able to throw the four-seam and the two-seam to try to keep them off balance with the movement," Keuchel said. "A lot of guys know I have some sink on my fastball. They see one certain spot. If it's lower than the spot, they say they'll take it and it will be a ball, so I kept them honest with the four-seam as well."
The Marlins took advantage of an error by center fielder Enrique Hernandez in the seventh. With one out, Hernandez misplayed a sharp line drive by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Adeiny Hechavarria then reached on an infield single with two outs before Mathis drove in both runners with a double.
"I have to make a better pitch right there," Keuchel said.
Hernandez, a utility player, is playing center because Houston's other three center fielders — George Springer, Alex Pressley and Dexter Fowler — are all on the disabled list.
"It was kind of knuckling a little bit," Hernandez said. "I should have read it a little bit longer. I broke in, and it felt like it was over me. I should have made that play; it cost us the game."
Hand (2-2) struck out four and walked two in a career-high 7 1-3 innings to earn his second straight win. Donovan Solano and Giancarlo Stanton each had two hits for the Marlins.
"(Hand) threw his fastballs on the outer third, breaking balls to the righties' back foot, and he just attacked the strike zone," Astros manager Bo Porter said. "I felt like we had some pitches that we could have hit, but we did not put those in play efficiently."