HOUSTON — Rookie Austin Pruitt knew he had a couple hundred friends and family at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night to watch him pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays in the city where he grew up.
But the right-hander refused to even look for them before his work was done.
Then after he completed the bulk of what would be a combined five-hitter in a 3-0 win over the Houston Astros, the stoic Pruitt cracked a smiled and fixed his eyes on where his personal cheering section was assembled.
“Whenever I got pulled I tried to look at everybody and kind of show everybody a little bit of love,” he said.
It was the first loss of the season for Houston ace Dallas Keuchel, who was still trying to regain his form in his second start after missing almost two months with a pinched nerve in his neck.
“He wasn’t locating his pitches. He wasn’t sharp,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “From start to start, you look back at how much time he missed and then the rehab starts and this being his second start, this was a step in the right direction, but his command wasn’t sharp.”
Logan Morrison hit a two-run homer. He also connected Tuesday night, snapping his season-long 12-game homerless streak.
The AL West-leading Astros, whose powerful offense has taken a hit with All-Stars Carlos Correa and George Springer on the disabled list, went 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and were shut out for the second time in a week.
Pruitt (6-2), who grew up in suburban Houston and attended the University of Houston, allowed five hits in a career-high 6 1/3 innings.
“Austin Pruitt was awesome … I knew he was excited to pitch here and all the talk about it, but to go out and perform like that had to be pretty special for him,” manager Kevin Cash said.
Steve Cishek walked one in 1 1/3 innings and Dan Jennings got the last out of the eighth before Alex Colome walked one in the ninth in getting his 32nd save.
Keuchel (9-1) gave up Trevor Plouffe’s one-out single in the first and Morrison launched his 28th home run with two outs.
Keuchel allowed seven hits and three runs in five innings.
The lefty ace was better than he was in his previous start, when he lasted just three innings and gave up three runs at Detroit. But he was far from the dominant pitcher he was before his second trip to the disabled list, when he was 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts.
Keuchel had a lot of traffic on the bases early. Consecutive singles by Mallex Smith and Corey Dickerson loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning.
Rays: OF Steven Souza Jr. was a late scratch from the lineup for the second straight game because of a bruised left foot. Souza was injured on Monday night when he fouled a ball off his foot. Cash said he was undergoing more tests to determine if the injury was worse than they initially thought.
Astros: Springer (left quadriceps strain) ran sprints and took batting practice before Wednesday’s game, but the team doesn’t have a timetable for his return. Springer hasn’t played since July 24 because of the injury.
After warming up in the outfield before the game, Smith joined a local Baptist church children’s choir on the field to help perform the national anthem. The kids looked surprised when they noticed Smith was standing right behind them crooning along as they sang with a huge smile on his face.
Smith said it was an impromptu decision to join the group.
“I’d been playing catch and I needed to stand next to somebody so I wouldn’t be lonely,” he said. “So I thought let me just join this national anthem and represent with the kids out there today.”
Smith wouldn’t call himself a singer, but that didn’t stop him from having a little fun.
“I don’t know if I’d get a recording contract, but I like to sing still,” he said.
THEY SAID IT
Keuchel on his progress since returning from the disabled list: “I feel better, so that’s all that really matters. Command wise is a little iffy, so that needs to get a lot better.”
Rays: Blake Snell (0-6, 4.87 ERA) will start for Tampa Bay in the series finale on Thursday night. Snell looks to snap a 14-start winless streak and get his first win since Sept. 22. He allowed six hits and three runs in 5 1/3 innings in a 5-4 loss to the Yankees in his last start.
Astros: Collin McHugh (0-0, 4.22) is scheduled to make his third start of the season for Houston on Thursday. McHugh allowed four hits and one run in six innings of a 5-3 loss to the Tigers in his last start.
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