HOUSTON -- Astros starting pitchers entered Sunday's game with 10 quality starts, which was tied for the second-highest total in the National League. A quality start is defined by the starter going at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or fewer.
J.A. Happ leads the way with three quality starts, Bud Norris, Lucas Harrell and Wandy Rodriguez (Sunday's starter) had two and Kyle Weiland had one, which came Saturday night in a loss to the Dodgers. Houston starters had a 3.87 ERA in the first 15 games.
"You get into Spring Training and everything is up in the air," Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail said. "Harrell's worked out, and [Weiland], other than making a mistake to [Matt Kemp], has done well. My guys are getting us deep into the game. I've had one starter get through four. Everybody else has gone through five, 5 2/3 or seven innings. I can't complain at all."
Weiland and Rodriguez haven't had much run support, and Brocail stresses to the starters that they can't worry about that.
"I tell them they have to go out and pitch their game," he said. "I know as a pitcher, it's hard not to give up the second run when you have a one-run lead. When you're not scoring, you've got to go out and keep the deficit down. That's what we're working on, and they've been doing a good job."
Altuve, Schafer showing patience at the plate
HOUSTON -- It's been well-documented this season the lengths the Astros have taken to try to get Jose Altuve to be more patient at the plate, and it's paid off. Altuve's five walks in 58 plate appearances entering Sunday matched his walk total in 234 plate appearances last year.
The Astros also stressed patience this spring to center fielder Jordan Schafer, who began play Sunday ranked fifth in the National League with 10 walks and had reached base safely in the team's first 15 games this season. Schafer was also third in the league with 19 strikeouts.
"I've been walking and striking out a lot more, but that's just a product of me taking more pitches," Schafer said. "I've been behind in the counts and just taking more pitches. It's nothing I'm trying to do on purpose. Maybe if I'm more aggressive, I wouldn't walk as much."
Schafer, a leadoff hitter, said seeing more pitches benefits him when he's facing pitchers he hasn't seen before and when the pitcher hitting in front of him has made an out, giving the pitcher more time to catch his breath in the dugout.
"Strikeouts are something I don't even worry about," Schafer said. "To me, a strikeout is just another way of making an out. Obviously, you don't want to strike out and you want to put the ball in play. Through the year, I'm sure I'm not going to strike out as much as I am now, because we've faced some tough guys lately and they've made pretty good pitches."
Travis Buck, who hadn't played since straining his left hamstring on Wednesday in Washington, was available to pinch-hit on Sunday, manager Brad Mills said. Mills said if Buck reached base, he would have to find someone to pinch-run for him, perhaps a pitcher so he wouldn't burn another spot on the bench. Kyle Weiland, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ are the prime pinch-running candidates when it comes to pitchers.