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The show in Houston must go on, apparently.
The Astros have been bitten by COVID-19, though none of the five players placed on the COVID injury list Wednesday has tested positive. Yet.
Four key players — second baseman Jose Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez and catcher Martin Maldonado — along with utility man Robel Garcia were put on the IL for contract tracing purposes.
Because there were no confirmed cases, the Astros played Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers. The Astros lost 6-4.
The five players are not required to stay on the IL for a finite period. They can be activated as soon as they are cleared. Any players who tests positive must isolate for 10 days and produce two negative tests before being reinstated.
Teams will be able to relax the health and safety protocols once 85 percent of the players and coaches have been fully vaccinated for 10 days. The five Astros players who were put on the IL have at least one dose.
The Texas Rangers are nearing 85 percent, manager Chris Woodward said. He receives his second shot this week.
Meanwhile, the Rangers are actually riding a winning streak. It’s only two games, but that counts.
Here’s some Rangers Reaction from a 5-1 victory Wednesday over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Arihara a winner
Right-hander Kohei Arihara turned in his best performance of his first three MLB starts, and it might be difficult for him to top it.
He allowed only three hits in 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out five, en route to his first MLB victory. Woodward came and got Arihara with the bases empty in the sixth but after his 85th pitch.
Arihara said afterward he would have liked to have stayed in for one more batter, but the Rangers are being cautious with him as he adapts to a five-man rotation after pitching with extra rest in Japan. He will again be working on four days’ rest in his next start, next week at Anaheim.
The win, though, was quite the milestone for Arihara.
“It’s like a start to my career,” he said.
Arihara dropped his ERA to 3.07, and he did it with a wider array of pitches than he had thrown in his first two starts when Woodward said Arihara had been relying too much on his fastball.
His split-fingered fastball was his best pitch against the Rays, who didn’t have much luck on any of his off-speed pitches. That was evident in the second inning, after the Rangers put runners at second and third with no outs.
(They should have scored a run on Joey Wendle’s double, but Yandy Diaz missed his third-base coach waving him home).
Arihara got Manuel Margot (sinker) to pop out, and finished the inning with strikeouts of countryman Yoshi Tsustugo (slider) and Mike Zunino (splitter).
“He hadn’t had a ton of strikeouts before that,” Woodward said. “That was probably the three biggest at-bats of the game.”
Teammate Kolby Allard awarded Arihara with the cowboy hat, which goes to the player of the game, but only after Arihara was doused with beer for his first W.
He said he enjoyed the beer shower.
Arihara said it was the first time he has ever donned a cowboy hat, and the initial indication is it might not be his style.
It could become his style if he keeps pitching like that.
Lowe tees off
Nate Lowe has been struggling since his torrid start to the season, which saw him hold the MLB lead in RBIs for the first week. But he entered Wednesday in a 1-for-21 funk.
He was facing his former team, and golfing buddy Josh Fleming was on the mound. Fleming is left-handed, and the lefty-hitting Lowe was irked that the Rays never let him play against lefties.
However, he faced Fleming frequently last season while at the alternate camp, and that knowledge paid off in the second inning as Lowe just cleared the wall in left-center field for a home run.
“We ate lunch all the time,” Lowe said. “That’s my golf partner. He’s a great competitor. He’s got great stuff. He’s a really good human being. I was able to get one on him today.”
But ... will the home run force Lowe to give Fleming a stroke or two the next time they tee it up together?
“No way,” Lowe said. “I’ve got one under my thumbs, and that’s just the way it goes.”
As far as getting revenge against the Rays, or “sports hate” as Mike Napoli once called it, Lowe said he had to separate his emotions from the baseball. There’s no hitting a five-run homer, as he said, and he needed to find his sweet spot from a focus standpoint.
But it’s was nice.
“That was sweet,” said Lowe, who was acquired by the Rangers in a December trade. “I try to take most of the emotion out of it, but I’ll take any success I can have against whoever I can have it against.”
Others getting going
As bad as Lowe was entering Wednesday, David Dahl was going even worse.
The outfielder, acquired in the offseason after the Colorado Rockies non-tendered him, was 0-for-20 entering his third at-bat. A well-placed grounder led to a single in the sixth, and Dahl wasn’t done.
He delivered a two-out two-run double in the seventh to turn a 1-0 lead into 3-0 advantage. The Rays opted to intentionally walk Joey Gallo, and Adolis Garcia followed with a two-run triple to make it 5-0.
Down at the bottom of the order, Charlie Culberson continued to swing a hot bat. He had two more hits after a three-hit game in Tuesday’s 8-3 victory, and is batting .368 after starting the season 0-for-7.
The Rangers were shut out three times during the four-game losing streak they snapped Tuesday. They went 22 straight inning without a run and were no-hit Friday.
That’s baseball, and so is their quick two-game turnaround.
“That’s just how it goes,” Lowe said. “Over 162, you’ve got to know you’re going to have some pretty bad ones in there at some point. That’s inevitable. You’ve got to make the bad as relative as possible and keep going.”
The lows, though, are prolonged on rebuilding teams. Young players don’t know how to quickly snap slumps. If they’re all going bad, and then some veterans start to stink it up, that adds up to a team-wide drought.
Until young players like Leody Taveras, Anderson Tejeda and Eli White, and even Lowe and Nick Solak, start to find their footing more consistently, the Rangers could be prone to the prolonged lows.