The Houston Astros' bullpen, once seemingly infallible with right-handers Will Harris, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna thriving in high-leverage situations, recently showed signs of vulnerability.
On Tuesday, however, the Astros took a step toward improving their bullpen depth with the return of right-hander Collin McHugh, who worked a scoreless ninth inning in Houston's 5-1 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.
The teams will meet again Wednesday in the middle contest of a three-game set at Minute Maid Park.
McHugh missed 34 games after landing on the 10-day injured list due to elbow discomfort on May 21. Previously, he made two relief appearances following his demotion from the rotation.
McHugh excelled in relief for the Astros in 2018, finishing 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA over 58 appearances. In three relief appearances this season, he has allowed one run on four hits and two walks with seven strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch longed to work McHugh back into the mix early in the Pirates series, a strategy that unfolded as planned when Houston scored an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning to open a four-run lead.
"It'll be important because we need him to be good," Hinch said. "We put him in the bullpen to be a weapon. I was really hopeful that he would get in one of these first couple games but yet not be ... thrust into a big spot.
"So it was nice that we could tack on that extra run. I rest Osuna, I get (McHugh) in the game and get him back in the flow of being in our bullpen rotation."
Left-hander Framber Valdez (3-3, 3.61 ERA) will get the start for the Astros on Wednesday. Valdez, set to make his first career appearance against the Pirates, took his first loss as a starter this year against the New York Yankees on Thursday after allowing five runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings.
Valdez had surrendered a total of three runs over 13 innings in his previous two starts.
Rookie right-hander Dario Agrazal (0-0, 4.50 ERA) will make his second career start for the Pirates on Wednesday.
Agrazal, who will be recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis, allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits with three strikeouts over four innings in a 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on June 15, a game in which he did not factor into the decision. He is 5-4 with a 3.87 ERA over 13 starts across two levels in the minors this season.
Injuries continue to undermine the Pirates' rotation, but the solid start provided by right-hander Trevor Williams on Tuesday offered a ray of hope.
While Agrazal plugs a gap Wednesday, Williams showed progress in his second outing following a month-long stint on the IL, allowing four runs over 6 2/3 innings. What Pittsburgh needed from Williams was productivity and good health.
"It's my second start back off the IL," Williams said. "It's only going to improve my command of the ball and the ability to throw all my pitches. Overall, I felt better. It's not that I didn't feel prepared my last start, I just wasn't as sharp as I was (Tuesday)."
--Field Level Media
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