The pregame hype Friday at Minute Maid Park focused mostly on right-hander Zack Greinke, who shared the dais with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and three other newcomers to the Houston organization.
One of those trade-deadline additions was a familiar face: catcher Martin Maldonado, who slugged a home run in the Astros' 10-2 win Friday in the opener of a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners.
Revered for his defensive chops, Maldonado joined the Astros last season via trade before departing in free agency. Houston re-acquired him Wednesday, and when starting catcher Robinson Chirinos was a late scratch due to injury, Maldonado made his second consecutive start behind the plate following more than a week of inactivity with the Chicago Cubs.
Before Maldonado started against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday, Astros manager AJ Hinch mapped out a plan utilizing Chirinos and Maldonado. That Maldonado filled in so ably in a pinch and could do so for the remainder of the series with Seattle underscores his value to Houston.
"We targeted him because he knows our pitching staff," Hinch said. "He never caught (left-handed starter Wade) Miley, but all these relievers that came in that were with us last year he's got some history with.
That learning curve is really (vital). He's a catcher through and through, and when they get to produce ... the smile on his face is pretty big."
Right-hander Aaron Sanchez (3-14, 6.07 ERA) will make his first start for the Astros on Saturday against the Mariners. Sanchez was acquired Wednesday as part of a four-player trade from the Toronto Blue Jays, coming to Houston along with right-hander Joe Biagini and minor league outfielder Cal Stevenson.
Sanchez is winless over his last 17 starts (0-13, 7.49) having allowed 39 walks over 81 2/3 innings while surrendering a .901 OPS to opposing batters. He is 2-0 with a 1.31 ERA over six appearances (three starts) against the Mariners, having last faced them on May 14, 2017, when he allowed one unearned run on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts over five innings in a 3-2 victory at Rogers Center.
Left-hander Marco Gonzales (12-8, 4.21) will get the start for the Mariners in the middle game of this three-game set. He is 7-2 with a 3.30 ERA over his last nine starts since June 7 after going 0-6 with a 7.79 ERA during a seven-start stretch.
Gonzales is 0-3 with a 7.58 ERA in five career appearances (four starts) against the Astros, including an 0-1 record and 4.35 ERA in two starts this season.
The Mariners will be in need of a quality start from Gonzales after left-hander Yusei Kikuchi lasted only four innings in the series opener, surrendering six runs on nine hits.
Kikuchi has allowed 11 runs on 15 hits and three walks over two starts against Houston, and with the teams set to meet in two more series following this one, there is a likelihood that Kikuchi could face the Astros for a third time. At this juncture, all he can do is look ahead with optimism.
"They're a top-tier level team, and if I can learn from this and perform well against a team like this, that gives me confidence as well," Kikuchi said. "So I'm looking forward to the next time I face them."
--Field Level Media
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