Astros Claim King Off Waivers

SB Nation Houston's coverage of the Dodgers-Astros series from May 23rd-25th.

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Astros Claim Blake King On Waivers, Option Him To Corpus Christi

According to a team press release, the Astros claimed pitcher Blake King off waivers from the Cardinals. King, a 44th rounder in the 2005 MLB Draft, is a relief pitcher. Lets all act surprised that Ed Wade claimed one of those.

King struggled in his first crack at AAA in Memphis this year, boast a 11.08 ERA, 19:20 K:BB ratio, and allowed 18 hits in 13 innings. In his favor, he did do very well at AA Springfield last year and is still just 24. This is the sort of claim the Astros should be making, although they probably ought to be doing it on a prospect with greater upside than Jeff Fulchino, part two.

The Astros were at 38 men on their 40 man roster, so they did not have to make a corresponding move following the addition. King will be sent back down to AA to pitch for the Corpus Christi Hooks.

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Astros Activate Jeff Keppinger From DL, Send Down Bogusevic

Turns out the infielder that was supposed to get sent down for Jeff Keppinger was an outfielder. The Astros made a rather unorthodox move, activating Keppinger from the DL but sending down outfielder Brian Bogusevic rather than infielder Matt Downs. The Astros will now have five middle infielders on the roster, but just four outfielders.

“Everybody knows our three [starting] outfielders are going to play,” said manager Brad Mills. “You don’t take those guys out. [Matt] Downs has played some outfield, Billy Hall has played some outfield. It’s not like we’re naked out there, and we have [Jason] Michaels as well.”

Yeah, you don’t want to lose an impact bat like Carlos Lee.

Seriously though, the Astros will have Jason Michaels backing up all three outfield spots. It’s not that bad of a move all things considered, because Hall has some experience in the outfield, but it does make the roster construction rather awkward.

I would reason that the Astros will be looking to deal one of them as soon as they can. Then again, I’ve said that about Brett Myers before and that didn’t happen.

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Second Walk-Off Win In Series Gives Astros Rubber Match Against Dodgers

Houston, TX (Sports Network) – J.R. Towles broke out of an extended slump at the plate and singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Houston Astros edged the Los Angeles Dodgers, 2-1, at Minute Maid Park.

Towles, who entered Wednesday’s rubber match of this three-game series mired in an 0-for-32 skid, finished with three hits for Houston.

Brett Wallace hit a one-out double off Los Angeles reliever Matt Guerrier (2-3) in the ninth. After Bill Hall flied out, Towles stroked a 2-0 pitch to center field to score pinch-runner Brian Bogusevic.

Rookie Aneury Rodriguez gave up a home run to Matt Kemp among four hits in six innings for the Astros, who have won four of their last six games. Mark Melancon (4-1) tossed an inning of relief to earn the win.

Ted Lilly yielded six hits, including a home run by Michael Bourn, over six frames for Los Angeles, which has dropped nine of 12.

Houston grabbed a 1-0 lead when Bourn deposited Lilly’s first pitch of the game over the right field wall. Kemp tied the game in the sixth with his 12th homer of the season, a two-out blast to left field.

Towles nearly put the Astros ahead in the seventh, but was tagged out at home trying to score on an errant pitch from Mike MacDougal.

Game Notes

Houston won consecutive series for the first time this season…Towles’ last hit came on May 4 at Cincinnati…Kemp had three of the Dodgers’ six hits.

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Astros Try For Second Straight Series Win In Matinee With Dodgers

(Sports Network) – The Los Angeles Dodgers haven’t won a series in over three weeks and have a chance to end that drought this afternoon in the finale of a three-game set against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Dodgers recorded their last series win at Pittsburgh in a rain-shortened set from May 9-11 at PNC Park, and ended a three-game slide with Tuesday’s 5-4 win in the middle portion of this series. Jerry Sands continued to impress with a grand slam in the third inning and Jay Gibbons added a solo shot early on for Los Angeles, which won for just the third time in 11 tries.

“Jerry just keeps getting better and better,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said on the ballclub’s site.

Los Angeles starter Chad Billingsley gave up four runs, five hits and three walks over six innings and fanned nine batters to register his first win since April 22. Mike MacDougal, Rubby De La Rosa and Javy Guerra each tossed a scoreless inning of relief with Guerra posting his first save.

Andre Ethier has been held out of the starting lineup in each of the past two games for rest and is likely to return to his usual spot Wednesday. He injured his left big toe, lower back and right elbow after crashing into the outfield wall Sunday at Chicago, but hit a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning.

“I need him to be 100 percent,” said Mattingly. “Last year he got banged up. He was hobbling around the whole second half of the year. You just don’t want to see that.”

The Dodgers are 2-3 on a six-game road trip that started with two losses in three games against the White Sox this past weekend. Taking the mound for LA today will be Ted Lilly, who is 3-4 with a 4.71 earned run average in 10 starts. Lilly has alternated wins and losses over his previous four decisions and did not factor in the outcome of Friday’s 6-4 win over the White Sox. He gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

Lilly has made 13 career starts against the Astros and is 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA over that stretch.

Houston had won two straight and three of four games before dropping last night’s middle contest of this series. J.A. Happ drew the start for the Astros and fell to 3-6 after he permitted five runs — one earned — in five innings of work. Happ struck out four and walked two batters.

“Happ had that third inning that elevated his pitch count,” Houston manager Brad Mills said postgame.

Carlos Lee hit a two-run single and Hunter Pence added an RBI double for Houston, which was looking to match a season-high three-game winning streak from April 30-May 3.

The Astros will also host Arizona for three games on their six-game homestand and will send Aneury Rodriguez to the mound Wednesday. Rodriguez, in his first major league season, is 0-2 with a 5.72 ERA in 13 games, four of which have been starts. He was last in action during a 5-2 win at Toronto on Friday and held the Blue Jays to a pair of runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Rodriguez, a right-hander, has never faced Los Angeles and is winless (0-2) in seven games (2 starts) at home.

Los Angeles and Houston are squaring off for the first time since the Dodgers won four of six matchups a year ago. LA is 7-3 in the past 10 games in this series.

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Ed Wade Expects Jeff Keppinger Back This Weekend

The Astros will have a big decision to make this weekend as infielder Jeff Keppinger returns to full health. General manager Ed Wade says that he expects last year’s starting second baseman to be back by the weekend:

“I’m optimistic by the weekend he’ll be back,” Wade said. “We asked him to extend his stay at Oklahoma City to get back-to-back games under his belt. If everything moves in a straight line, we’re looking at Friday or Saturday.”

The Astros will have five middle infielders for four slots at that point. Though Matt Downs has been swinging a pretty hot bat lately, he may be the one that takes the tumble to Oklahoma upon Keppinger’s return. Bill Hall has been turning things around of late, but he’d be the candidate to go based on this year’s statistics alone. Clint Barmes hasn’t been hitting much, but is the Astros best defensive infielder. Angel Sanchez is another possibility to be sent down.

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Dodgers Capitalize On Hall Error, Win 5-4

Houston, TX (Sports Network) – Rookie Jerry Sands belted his first career grand slam, and the Los Angeles Dodgers held on to beat the Houston Astros, 5-4, in the middle test of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park.

Jay Gibbons also homered for the Dodgers, who avoided their fourth straight loss. LA starter Chad Billingsley (3-4) gave up four runs, five hits and three walks while striking out nine in six innings to notch his first win since April 22.

Carlos Lee hit a two-run single and Hunter Pence added an RBI double for Houston, which was looking to match a season-high three-game winning streak. J.A. Happ (3-6) gave up just three hits — including both homers — over five frames, but a costly fielding error led to only one of the five runs being earned.

Gibbons’ first home run of the season put the visitors on the board in the second inning. Los Angeles extended its lead in its next at-bat.

Happ quickly retired the first two batters. Jamey Carroll then walked and, after Houston native James Loney lined a single to center field, Matt Kemp hit an innocuous-looking grounder that second baseman Bill Hall misplayed. Three pitches later, the Dodgers led 5-0 after Sands blasted the second home run of his young big-league career.

“Happ had that third inning that elevated his pitch count,” Houston manager Brad Mills said.

The Astros countered with a three-spot in the bottom of the third. Their rally also began with a two-out walk. After Clint Barmes singled, Pence plated Michael Bourn with a double to right. Lee then grounded a single up the middle, trimming Houston’s deficit to 5-3.

Houston had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth, but Billingsley managed to limit the damage to a Chris Johnson sacrifice fly.

LA’s trio of Mike MacDougal, Rubby De La Rosa and Javy Guerra each tossed a scoreless inning of relief, with Guerra recording his first major-league save.

“Javy’s got great stuff. We have a lot of confidence in his stuff. It’s electric,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of the rookie.

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Astros Go For Back-To-Back Series Wins Against Billingsly

(Sports Network) – The Los Angeles Dodgers haven’t been producing enough runs to support starter Chad Billingsley lately and hope to stem the tide tonight in the middle test of a three-game road series against the Houston Astros.

Billingsley is 0-3 with a decent 2.91 earned run average in his last five starts, with the Dodgers amassing a 1-4 mark in that stretch. The Dodgers have lost Billingsley’s previous four starts and have scored just three runs over his past four trips to the mound.

The right-hander is coming off last Thursday’s 3-1 loss to San Francisco in which he yielded three runs and six hits in six innings to fall to 2-4 in 10 starts and raise his ERA to 3.47. Billingsley is 1-2 in five road starts and will face Houston for the seventh time in his career on Tuesday. He is 3-3 over the first six matchups — all starts — with the Astros.

Clayton Kershaw pitched well enough for the win in Monday’s 4-3 loss at Minute Maid Park, as the left-hander held the hosts to a run and four hits in six innings with seven strikeouts before the bullpen imploded. Reliever Kenley Jansen was saddled with the loss for giving up the go-ahead runs (3) in the bottom of the ninth inning. Michael Bourn stroked a two-run double and Hunter Pence plated the speedy outfielder with an RBI single.

“This was a tough one to lose. When things aren’t going right for your team it’s a tumbling effect,” Kershaw said.

Matt Kemp homered for the 100th time in his career and James Loney extended his hitting streak to nine games. Loney is hitting .324 in that stretch for the Dodgers, who have lost three in a row and eight of 10 games. LA is 1-3 on a six-game road swing and 10-14 as the guest this season.

The Astros are in search of just their second three-game winning streak of the season and turned the trick from April 30-May 3. In last night’s rally past the Dodgers, Bourn and Pence came through in the clutch to lift Houston to its second straight win and third in four tries since a five-game slide.

Humberto Quintero also drove in a run and Bill Hall finished 4-for-4 with a pair of runs scored for Houston, which opened a six-game homestand on a positive note and made a winner out of relief pitcher Jeff Fulchino. Fulchino threw the final 1 2/3 innings and kept Los Angeles off the scoreboard.

“Hunter came through,” Astros manager Brad Mills said of the outfielder’s game-winning single. “He’s going to give you a big at-bat every time up.”

Bud Norris started for the ’Stros and gave up three runs — two earned — on six hits and three walks through seven innings in the no-decision.

Houston, which is slated to host Arizona for three games, will hand the ball to lefty J.A. Happ on Tuesday and he’s trying to get back into the win column. Happ was 2-0 in three starts before losing at St. Louis last Thursday in a 4-2 setback at Busch Stadium.

Happ permitted three runs in six innings, falling to 3-5 in nine starts to go along with a 5.30 ERA. He has no record in two career games (1 start) and a strong 1.59 ERA against the Dodgers.

Los Angeles and Houston are meeting for the first time since the Dodgers won four of six matchups a year ago. LA is 6-3 in the past nine games in this series.

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Pence's Game-Winning RBI Caps Off Late-Game Comeback

Houston, TX (Sports Network) – Hunter Pence’ dramatic, RBI single highlighted a three-run ninth, as the Houston Astros edged the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-3, in the first of a three-game set from Minute Maid Park.

Trailing 3-1 and down to their final at bat, the Astros placed runners on second and third with two outs before Michael Bourn ripped a game-tying double down the right field line. After Clint Barmes was hit by a pitch, Pence lifted a 1-0 cutter over short and Bourn barely beat the throw home to complete the exhilarating comeback.

Jeff Fulchino (1-2) earned the win after working 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to help the Astros win for the third time in their past four games.

Kenley Jansen (1-1) suffered the blown save and the loss, as the Dodgers dropped their third straight.

Matt Kemp blasted the 100th home run of his career and James Loney went 1- for-4, extending his hit streak to nine games.

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Jeff Keppinger Could Return To Astros This Week

Astros second baseman Jeff Keppinger has needed a bit of time to get ready for the season, but he could be activated over the weekend after finishing three more minor league games in Oklahoma.

“This is his Spring Training,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “We want to build up at-bats, build up strength. He’s mentioned that [his foot] has been tired, so we have to build up strength. We just want to keep it to where it doesn’t get worn out. That’s the biggest thing.”

The Astros will have quite the roster decision coming up whenever they activate Keppinger from the DL. On merit, Bill Hall easily has been the worst player of the four the Astros have used in the middle infield, but he’s also got a guaranteed deal and the best overall MLB track record. Clint Barmes seems to be safe. Houston could also jettison either Angel Sanchez or Matt Downs.

Should Houston attempt to get rid of Hall, they’d likely have to release him outright. It might be a little soon for that given they’ll owe him his salary anyway, so look for the Astros to instead send down Sanchez or Downs.

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Astros Head Home To Square Off With Kershaw, Dodgers

(Sports Network) - Clayton Kershaw is coming off a rough performance and was still able to keep his unbeaten streak intact. Tonight the lefty will handle pitching duties for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the opener of a three-game series against the Houston Astros from Minute Maid Park.

Kershaw allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings for a no-decision during last Wednesday's 8-5 loss versus San Francisco. He struck out six batters and is 3-0 with a 2.45 earned run average in his last four starts, with the Dodgers going 3-1 in that span.

The young southpaw, who was coming off seven shutout innings in a win over Arizona in which he fanned 11 batters, pushed his overall record to 5-3 in 10 starts to go along with a 3.09 ERA. In three career starts against Houston, Kershaw is 1-1 with a less-than-stellar 4.76 ERA.

Los Angeles is counting on Kershaw to bring the club back into the win column after it dropped the last two portions of a three-game interleague series against the Chicago White Sox over the weekend. In Sunday's 8-3 setback in the series finale from U.S.Cellular Field, Hiroki Kuroda drew the start and suffered the loss for allowing six runs -- four earned -- on nine hits, including a pair of home runs, in 5 2/3 innings.

Jerry Sands had four hits to lead LA, while Jamey Carroll, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Jay Gibbons were each credited with an RBI for the Dodgers, losers in seven of their last nine games. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was still optimistic even after the loss.

"I think we're going to be fine going forward," said Mattingly.

Houston won two of three games in its first trip to Toronto over the weekend and handed the hosts a 3-2 loss on Sunday at Rogers Centre. Wandy Rodriguez was able to even his mark at 3-3 with six innings of two-run ball and worked around a few early jams. Wilton Lopez threw 1 1/3 scoreless frames before Mark Melancon nailed down his third save with 1 2/3 shutout innings.

Hunter Pence ended with two hits, including a home run, two runs scored and two RBI for the Astros, who entered the series with the Blue Jays on a five- game losing streak. Brett Wallace had two hits and an RBI in the win.

"There was a lot of tough situations," Pence said on the club's site. "We made some good defensive plays and had some great pitching by Wandy to get out of those jams early, and [Kyle] Drabek was painting the corners at 95 miles per hour and had a decent curveball that was tough to lay off of. He got me when I had some opportunities to score."

The Astros are kicking off a six-game homestand this evening versus LA and Arizona, and will send Bud Norris to the bump Monday. Norris is 0-2 in his previous three starts and was banged around in last Wednesday's 5-1 loss at St. Louis, as he allowed five runs and seven hits in five innings.

Norris, a right-hander, fell to 2-3 in nine starts with a 3.93 earned run average and hopes to remain unbeaten at home. Through five starts at Minute Maid Park in 2011, Norris is 2-0 to go along with a 2.18 ERA. He has split two career starts against the Dodgers.

Los Angeles and Houston are meeting for the first time since the Dodgers won four of six matchups a year ago. LA is 6-2 in the past eight games in this series.

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