Houston — If you focused on all the traffic on the basepaths, if you calculate his WHIP, you missed the point of Mike Pelfrey’s start Friday night.
It wasn’t pretty. Not by anybody’s definition. But it was gritty.
“Sometimes you just have to find a way and he did a great job of finding a way tonight,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
On a night when three relievers were unavailable — Drew VerHagen, Mark Lowe and closer Francisco Rodriguez — Pelfrey found a way to survive through six hard-fought innings.
What he did was compete. Hard. He kept the Tigers within a swing of tying the game, but against the reigning Cy Young Award winner, Dallas Keuchel, that swing never came.
Keuchel stymied the Tigers on five hits over eight innings and the Astros took the first of this three-game series, 1-0. It was Keuchel’s franchise-record 17th straight home win.
“Regardless of how the bullpen is, you want to go as deep as possible, you want to get people out,” Pelfrey said. “I wasn’t very efficient. Early on I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I knew I was going to keep battling.
“(Catcher Jarrod) Saltalamacchia had to baby-sit me for six innings, but we were able to get through it.”
A first-inning run — delivered by a Colby Rasmus single — was the only real damage done against Pelfrey. But, man, did he have to grind.
After Rasmus’ single in the first, the Astros still had the bases-loaded with one out. Pelfrey struck out Evan Gattis, freezing him with a fastball. Then he got Carlos Gomez to ground out.
He loaded the bases with nobody out in the second inning. Again he escaped. He struck out George Springer with a split-fingered fastball and induced a 6-4-3 double play from Carlos Correa.
He put the first two Astros on in the third, then got Gattis to foul out and Gomez to hit into a 4-3 double play.
He gave up only a single and walk from the fourth through the sixth inning.
“One thing that saved me was my split was really good,” Pelfrey said. “I had pretty terrible fastball command. Six walks? Is that a career high? Has to be (it was). Not the way I wanted to be. In the end, with that guy on the other side, it wasn’t good enough.”
Pelfrey threw 104 pitches in six innings, allowed five singles and the six walks, but only the one run. He induced three double plays in the game, saved the bullpen and kept the Tigers in contention.
“Obviously he had trouble with his command early, but somehow, with his sinker, he was able to get ground balls, get double plays and get out of jams,” Ausmus said. “It’s not how you’d draw it up, but we will take it.”
Pelfrey had high praise for his defense.
“I know it isn’t fun to play behind a guy who is all over the place and walking guys,” he said. “The defense made some huge double plays. I tip my hat to the guys for that.”
Right-hander Buck Farmer pitched two scoreless and hitless innings, striking out three. He was optioned to Triple A Toledo afterward and right-hander Alex Wilson was recalled.
The Tigers, though, couldn’t get at Keuchel. Their best chance might have been the first inning.
“It’s the late movement that makes him so tough,” Ausmus said. “We hit some balls well early off him, then he settled in. You didn’t see a lot of hard contact after that. He has a Cy Young Award for a reason.”
Ian Kinsler hit the first pitch of the game into left field for a single. With one out, Miguel Cabrera singled to center. Kinsler seemed to hesitate rounding second but still tried to get to third. Gomez threw him out easily.
“I don’t think he hesitated,” Ausmus said. “He took a shot. That’s part of baseball. You take a shot and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Just being aggressive early.”
The Tigers managed only four baserunners the rest of the game, and none reached second base.
“(Keuchel) mixed his pitches up and we just didn’t hit him,” said Justin Upton, who had one of the Tigers' five hits. “He knows how to navigate through a game and that’s what he did tonight.”
Astros closer Luke Gregerson retired the heart of the Tigers' order — Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez — for his third save.
The loss snapped the Tigers' three-game win streak. The Astros had lost three straight.