HOUSTON — A lefty on the mound and no Jose Abreu is a bad recipe for the White Sox. Throw Dallas Keuchel and the season he’s had into the scenario, and the potential for ugliness increases.
The Houston Astros left-hander combined a career-high 12 strikeouts with good fortune on Saturday afternoon as the White Sox lost, 3-0, in front of 29,720 at Minute Maid Park. Keuchel, who is now 7-1 with a 1.76 earned-run average, used a live fastball to outduel Jose Quintana (2-6) and throw a four-hit shutout to even the series at one game apiece.
“He was great,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I don’t know if we faced anybody as tough as him. We were just trying to get something going. We kept swinging and missing out in front.
“This guy was as good as anybody we’ve seen. Just a great job by him.”
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A swollen right index finger ensured Abreu wouldn’t be in the lineup Saturday, which limited the White Sox chances. An offense that has struggled overall is even worse against lefties as their team .568 OPS is more than one hundred points below that against righties.
But Keuchel didn’t appear to need much help.
He not only had good command, Keuchel had White Sox hitters off balance most of the day. Were it not for a pair of errors by Astros third baseman Jonathan Villar, the White Sox would have had just four base runners.
Still, they had a chance in the third inning when Geovany Soto singled, moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a Carlos Sanchez ground out. But Keuchel toughened up and struck out Adam Eaton and Emilio Bonifacio.
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“He used my aggressiveness against me,” Eaton said. “Runner on third base, less than (two outs) he made his pitches. ... It wasn't my day.
“He keeps the ball down and hits his spots. And he nibbles. That's what most lefties that don't throw 95 do. He does that very effectively. He's got a good two-seam, he runs a good slider away from lefties, into righties and keep you off-balance. Hats off to him. At the same time we've got to be more competitive in here, and it starts from the top and the leadoff spot and trickles down.”
The White Sox also tried to generate offense by putting men in motion, and in both instances they were doubled off. With the White Sox down, 1-0, Gordon Beckham singled in the fifth inning. He was off on a 3-2 pitch, but George Springer caught Soto’s liner and he easily doubled Beckham off first.
Three innings later, Soto reached on an error with no outs and was replaced by pinch runner J.B. Shuck. With one out and Shuck running, Eaton lined out to third, and Villar fired over to throw out Shuck to end the inning.
“There was nothing you could get a read on,” Ventura said. “(Keuchel) didn’t have any pattern of the way he was throwing. He just seemed to be in command the whole time with what he was throwing and how he was throwing it. He was low in the zone. Nobody really got anything good. A couple of hits to right, but you could tell by guys’ swings.”
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A couple of feet added up to yet another difficult loss for Quintana.
He started strong and nearly got out unscathed after loading the bases in the fourth inning with no outs. Villar hit a fly ball to left and Melky Cabrera’s throw short-hopped Soto, who couldn’t corral the ball, allowing Preston Tucker to score. That was all the Astros got against Quintana, who allowed a run, five hits and four walks over 6 1/3 innings.
Evan Gattis and Chris Carter had solo homers for Houston off Dan Jennings in the eighth inning.
This was the fourth time this season where Quintana earned a loss despite allowing two or fewer runs.
“I feel great,” Quintana said. “I feel good. I tried to get the win, tough game. That happens. It’s baseball. You want to get wins, but it happens. It was a tough game today.”