After splitting Sunday’s matchups against the Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves, the Houston Astros returned to action Monday afternoon by hosting standout left-hander Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla.
Although it appeared to be a solid pitchers’ duel on paper, Houston starter Nelson Figueroa and Hamels struggled to make it through their scheduled innings, but the Phillies managed to escape with a nail-biting 7-6 victory thanks in part to a ninth-inning run off Astros reliever Fernando Rodriguez (0-1).
Figueroa allowed five runs (four earned) on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts over four innings to earn the no-decision.
“I felt like I got plenty of work in,” said Figueroa, who’s the early favorite to earn the final rotation spot. “I was throwing the ball very well. I was trying some new things out there. In warm-ups, I decided to move to the other side of the rubber just to get a different feel to some of my pitches. They felt like they were coming out of my hand great. I had the first two innings go by pretty well. I ran into some trouble in the third and the fourth was kind of just a circus act out there. I settled down, made pitches and had fun.”
Unlike Figueroa, Hamels couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning, as the crafty southpaw surrendered five earned runs, including three home runs, on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts over 3 2/3 innings en route to a no-decision himself.
He was involved in a brief altercation with Astros second baseman Bill Hall after brushing back the veteran with an inside fastball, thus causing Hall to take a few steps toward the mound to jaw at Hamels.
Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz issued a warning to both dugouts.
According to Figueroa, it didn’t have the feel of a routine Grapefruit League game, especially when playing the dominant Phillies.
“Today didn’t have the feel of a Spring Training game,” he said. “It quickly turned into a regular-season game. When you’re playing an opponent like the Phillies, you want to step your game up. You’re starting to face the A team now. The numbers are dwindling and teams are starting to send some guys down to Minor League camp. You’re going to start facing the actual starting lineups. The games will get tougher; the lineups will get tougher. The challenge is out there now to execute and make things happen.
“I left the game 5-5 and the atmosphere in the dugout was great. The guys rallied back with three home runs and it was fun to be around them celebrating a comeback like that. I’m basically spitting out the hook in that situation, but you’re facing one of their best in Cole Hamels. To go out there and compete, it was a great day.”
Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson and Jason Michaels blasted homers off Hamels, making it the second home run of the spring apiece for the trio.
Lee, Johnson and Brett Wallace had two-hit performances, while catchers Carlos Corporan and Humberto Quintero each drove in a run.
Wilton Lopez and Henry Villar combined for three scoreless innings, but reliever Pat Urckfitz and Rodriguez yielded two earned runs over the final two frames.
All-Stars Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard each drove in a run for the Phillies, yet it was Houston native and Klein High School product Josh Barfield, the son of former MLB slugger and Astros coach Jesse Barfield, that paced the offensive attack by going 1-for-2 with two RBI (both sacrifice flies) and a stolen base.
Dan Meyer (2-0) earned the victory for Philadelphia and Tyson Brummett record his first save of the spring with two-thirds of an inning.
The Astros (6-14) will travel to Sarasota, Fla., on Tuesday to face right-hander Brad Bergesen and the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
Aneury Rodriguez gets the starting nod in place of Wandy Rodriguez, who has been scratched from the start due to mild shoulder tendinitis.
Top prospect Jordan Lyles and Lance Pendleton will follow Rodriguez in the list of scheduled pitchers, which offers Astros manager Brad Mills a perfect opportunity to analyze the trio, considering all three are still in the running for the final rotation spot.
“As we’ve been rolling along, Ryan Rowland-Smith started yesterday, Figgy [Nelson Figueroa] started today and Jordan Lyles is going to pitch tomorrow,” Mills said regarding the competition for the final rotation spot. “The guys are getting looks.”
First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. CT.
For the latest Astros news, click on the Subscribe button at the top of the page. Also, be sure to follow Houston Astros Examiner Stephen Goff on Facebook and Twitter, or email [email protected]