Written by Joe Zollo
Two teams with below .500 records this 2017 spring training season went head to head in West Palm Beach on Friday afternoon. The Braves traveled down to meet the Astros in what would be a pitching showdown until late in the game.
Going into the game,, both teams were looking to get their seventh win of the 2017 Spring Training season. Houston was at a disadvantage, having to split their squad between this game and a matchup against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Florida. The one advantage Houston had was the bearded lefty pitcher out of Arkansas, Dallas Keuchel.
Keuchel had a shaky 2016 season, and this was his second start coming off an injury that had occurred last year. Manager AJ Hinch said before the game that it was like Keuchel’s third start since they had run a simulated game before his first real game. Hinch was asked how he liked the young kids on this roster, to which he enthusiastically responded “[it is a] productive spring out of the younger kids,” and that would rein true late in this one.
The pitching matchup was Keuchel against Matt Wisler for the Atlanta Braves. Coming into the game, Wisler was 0-1 this spring training while Keuchel hadn’t allowed a run in his lone start. Both pitchers went four full innings, and each finished with two strikeouts. Once Wisler was relieved, the Braves were only getting better, but that was not the same story for Houston.
After Keuchel was relieved, pitcher Will Harris came into the game and had a meltdown in the one inning he pitched. Harris walked two batters and allowed two runs in the fifth while Braves relief pitcher, Joel De La Cruz, did not allow a single hit to the Astros offense. More chaos ensued in the 7th inning when Riley Ferrell came in.
Ferrell allowed one walk, one hit, and two earned runs in just one-third of an inning, putting Atlanta up 4-0 in the top of the 7th inning. Luckily the Astros recovered and scored a lone run in the bottom of the inning to make the score 4-1. Down the stretch of the 8th and 9th, Houston’s pitching was very good, allowing only one hit and striking out two batters in the 9th thanks to Nick Hernandez, who was awarded the win.
Wait, weren’t the Astros down 4-1 in the 9th with a struggling offense? Yes, yes they were but here is where foreshadowing comes into play. The young core of the Astros sprang into action, hitting three straight singles with Derek Fisher driving in two runs with a double to make the score 4-3. After an Alejandro Garcia walk, the bases were loaded for 26-year-old Jack Mayfield out of Oklahoma.
Mayfield hits a line drive single into left-center field and drives in both the game-tying and game clinching-runs. The man who took the loss was Luke Johnson, who allowed five hits, one walk, and four earned runs in the bottom of the 9th without recording a single out. It was a devastating loss for the 25-year-old who has never had a great season. His career ERA is 8.50, and it seems he will keep growing that total during this upcoming year.
Good news for Atlanta outside of the 9th inning meltdown, their pitching staff played an extremely well game through eight innings. They allowed only two hits and one run in the first eight innings, and that is something to look at as an accomplishment in spring training.
The win moves Houston to 7-10-2 while the Braves drop to 6-14-1 for the 2017 Spring Training season. Up next for Houston, they will stay put as the away team and take on Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals. Meanwhile, the Braves will travel back to Disney to take on the Detroit Tigers at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida.