Pitching staffs the focus for Astros, Marlins

With the All-Star break in sight and the Astros on the brink of having survived the first half of the season despite having six starting pitchers on the injured list, Houston manager Joe Espada is particularly grateful when he gets consecutive quality starts from his rotation.

After right-hander Ronel Blanco tossed seven strong innings in the series-opening win over the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, left-hander Framber Valdez produced his 10th quality start on Wednesday as the Astros clinched the three-game interleague series with a 9-1 victory.

Playing at home, Houston can complete a series sweep on Thursday with a relatively rested bullpen, a necessity with a three-game weekend series against the Texas Rangers forthcoming.

After Valdez recorded a season-high 10 strikeouts over seven innings, the Astros needed only one reliever — Kaleb Ort — to cover the final six outs. That puts Espada in a position to have his high-leverage relievers — Tayler Scott, Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly and closer Josh Hader — rested for the final four games of the homestand before the first half of the season concludes.

“It feels really good,” Espada said. “And then we get those guys in the back end a breather and get someone like Ort in there, someone we just acquired not that long ago, throwing 98, 99 with 20 inches of vertical (movement). That’s pretty good.”

Rookie right-hander Jake Bloss (0-0, 4.91 ERA) is scheduled for reinstatement from the 15-day injured list and expected to start as the Astros seek to extend their home winning streak to nine games. Bloss made his major league debut on June 21 against the Baltimore Orioles and allowed two runs on six hits and one walk with two strikeouts before departing with two outs in the fourth inning due to right shoulder discomfort. He landed on the IL with that injury.

Rookie right-hander Roddery Munoz (1-3, 5.48) has the starting assignment for the Marlins. In his most recent outing against the Chicago White Sox last Friday, Munoz allowed two runs on four hits and four walks with two strikeouts over four innings in his first relief appearance this season. He did not factor into the Marlins’ 3-2 loss.

He was 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA over his previous six starts, allowing 13 home runs across 29 1/3 innings.

Munoz will make his first career appearance against the Astros. He is 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against the American League.

The Marlins also have been hit by injuries to their pitching staff.

A staff that isn’t at 100 percent has forced manager Skip Schumaker to juggle the parts and make tough decisions. One of those was to leave a struggling Bryan Hoeing in the game Wednesday. Making just his second start following a 55-game stint on the injured list, Hoeing was the losing pitcher after giving up five runs (four earned) on eight hits with a walk and a strikeout over three innings. He threw 62 pitches.

The role of Hoeing, and others, remains to be seen moving forward.

“I think everything’s in play, honestly, with so many injuries that we had early on in the season,” Schumaker said. “… I think credit to Bryan. He’s willing to do whatever we need right now. So if that’s back in the ‘pen, I’m sure he’ll say, ‘great.’ If we say, ‘We’re going to give you another start or two, or three or five,’ whatever it is, I think he’d say, ‘great.’ That’s just kind of the guy Bryan is. I’m just saying that it’s not always fair, unfortunately, because it’s just the reality of where we’re at right now.”

–Field Level Media