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Triston McKenzie struggles in 6-4 loss to Astros

It’s safe to say Mike Zunino also struggled. Mightily.

Houston Astros v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

For the second straight night, the Cleveland Guardians fell behind 3-0 in the first inning, only this time they weren’t able to dig themselves out of the hole in a 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros.

It’s been a tale of two starts for Triston McKenzie this season. After pitching five innings of one-hit ball and striking out 10 in his season debut, Saturday night’s start was a much different story.

Much like they did with Logan Allen the night before, the Astros were hunting for McKenzie’s four-seam fastball, especially in the first inning. Jose Altuve’s double, Alex Bregman’s RBI single, and Jose Abreu’s two-run homer all came against a four-seamer, once again allowing Houston to open up a 3-0 lead before the Guardians could even step into the batter’s box.

With the Astros feasting on his fastball, McKenzie’s secondary pitches weren’t nearly as effective as he needed them to be, forced to utilize his slider much more than he did in his previous start. In addition to allowing seven hits, he walked three batters. The Astros had at least one baserunner in each of the first four innings before McKenzie finally pitched a clean fifth. But by then, he had already allowed five earned runs, including a pair in the fourth inning.

To make matters worse, neither McKenzie nor catcher Mike Zunino could hold the Astros’ baserunners. It was open season on the basepaths as they swiped four bases through the first five innings. The two bases Houston stole in the fourth inning were aided by a pair of horrific throws from Zunino, both of which sailed into center field. One errant throw allowed Corey Julks to advance to third base, where he scored easily on an RBI double by Jake Meyers.

Zunino came to the plate in the fourth inning and you could hear a “We want Bo!” chant — a reference to minor league prospect Bo Naylor — coming from the crowd on the telecast.

The at-bat ended in Zunino’s second strikeout of the game and the chants of “We want Bo!” turned to boos as the Guardians’ backstop walked back to the dugout. In what I can only imagine was one of the worst game of his career, Zunino also had a “wild pitch” and a passed ball, and grounded into an inning-ending double play in the sixth to squash a potential rally.

Outside of Zunino, the Cleveland lineup had a fair amount of success against Houston starting pitcher J.P. France. They collected seven hits and drew six(!) walks in his seven innings of work, but struggled to score runs. Their first run came on a Josh Naylor sac fly in the first inning and then they didn’t score again until seventh. Grounding into three double plays certainly didn’t help.

With two outs in the seventh inning, Steven Kwan scored from first on a José Ramírez RBI single to right field, aided by Astros catcher Martin Maldonado dropping the ball before applying the tag at home plate. Ramírez was able to advance to second on the throw and then scored on a Naylor RBI single, cutting Houston’s lead to 5-3. Will Brennan lined a double into left field to put runners on second and third, prompting manager Terry Francona to pinch-hit Josh Bell for Gabriel Arias. Why? I’m not entirely sure. It definitely didn’t work out, as Bell struck out on three pitches.

Cleveland left-hander Tim Herrin surrendered an insurance run in the ninth inning on an RBI single by Abreu to extend their lead to 6-3, but at least the Guardians were able to make it interesting in the bottom of the ninth, with an assist from a fielding miscue by the Astros.

After Kwan reached on an infield single off the glove of closer Ryan Pressly, Rosario grounded to third what should have been a double play ball but Altuve missed the throw to second, leaving everyone safe and runners on first and third. Naylor scored Kwan on a sac fly for his third RBI of the night. Unfortunately, that was as close as Cleveland would cut it.