HOUSTON — Six starts represent a modest sample size comprising roughly one-fifth of the number of appearances a pitcher will make during the course of a regular season. But for Houston Astros right-hander Jarred Cosart, his last six starts offer signs of promise and progress.
Cosart logged seven innings and flashed exceptional control for a sixth consecutive start and right fielder George Springer bashed his team-leading 15th home run as Houston averted a series sweep with a 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday at Minute Maid Park.
Cosart (8-5) walked two batters in seven innings, extending his string of starts with two or fewer walks to six. He labored with control throughout his rookie season in 2013 and issued four walks in four of his first 10 starts this year. But in five June starts, Cosart walked just seven in 34 2/3 innings while pitching at least 6 2/3 innings in each.
“He said if I can cut down on the walks, and obviously everyone’s been saying that, I’m going to be a lot more successful and so far so good,” Cosart said of Astros pitching coach Brent Strom.
“When I’m throwing strikes, I have a lot more confidence and obviously that’s what they’ve been preaching, and with the mechanical stuff I’ve been doing I have a lot more confidence in throwing strikes and just being able to trust my stuff and attack the hitters and know I’ve got a really good defense behind me that’s going to make a lot of plays for me.”
The Braves (40-38) scratched across their lone run in the first inning when center fielder B.J. Upton singled, stole second base and advanced to third on a throwing error by Astros catcher Jason Castro before scoring on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Tommy La Stella.
Cosart faced the minimum in his next three innings before darting in and out of jams in the fifth and seventh innings. His proved especially elusive in his final inning, retiring left fielder Justin Upton, third baseman Chris Johnson and shortstop Andrelton Simmons in order after designated hitter Evan Gattis doubled and right fielder Jason Heyward walked to open the seventh.
“I tell you, that seventh inning there again you’re talking about maturity,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “Last year in that situation, we may not have gotten the result of him finishing that inning or it may have been some type of desire to have someone else finish that inning.
“But at no point did I think that he wasn’t going to finish it and that’s a credit to the maturation that’s taken place and his development and his ability to continue to make pitches even once the inning became stressful.”
The Astros (34-46) erased a 1-0 deficit when first baseman Jon Singleton doubled home second baseman Jose Altuve in the first inning. They turned on the power in the fifth and seventh innings, with third baseman Matt Dominguez blasting a three-run homer off Braves left-hander Mike Minor (2-5) for a 5-1 lead before Springer lined a solo shot to left-center field off reliever Juan Jaime with two outs in the seventh.
Minor was particularly remorseful of his mistake to Dominguez, an 0-2 fastball that crept back over the heart of the plate. His two-out walk to Springer set the stage for Dominguez to deliver the crushing blow.
“I think I was 0-2 to Altuve and made a decent pitch up and he still hit it,” Minor said. “And then to walk Springer. And then I made two OK pitches to Dominguez and I look back on it and a two-seamer ran back over the middle of the plate and he cheated a little bit and got it.”
Houston snapped a four-game skid with the win and scored more than five runs in a game for the first time since its 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on June 14. The Braves managed a series win on the heels of a split of their four-game series in Washington. Atlanta opens a four-game set in Philadelphia on Friday.
“We’re above .500 on this road trip,” Justin Upton said. “It’s going to be important for us to go into Philly and try to win that one also. A split in DC, a series win here and a series win in Philly, going back home we should be really confident.”
NOTES: Braves 1B Freddie Freeman was in the starting lineup despite being hit on the right elbow by a pitch from Astros LHP Darin Downs on Wednesday night. Freeman has started all 78 games this season.