AJ Hinch’s hunch pays off, Astros take Game 1 of ALDS vs. Royals – USA TODAY
KANSAS CITY â With outfielder Carlos Gomez battling an intercostal strain, Astros manager A.J. Hinch tabbed Jake Marisnick to start in center for his club’s 5-2 Game 1 win over the Royals in the ALDS on Thursday.
Hinch had other options: Gomez, he said, could play if necessary, and Thursday night’s left fielder, Colby Rasmus, is a natural center fielder. Marisnick mustered only a .236 batting average with a .281 on-base percentage during the regular season, and sliding the lefty-hitting Rasmus into center and using lefty-hitting rookie Preston Tucker in left, which Hinch said he considered, would have given the Astros a more formidable lineup against fireballing Royals righty Yordano Ventura.
But the Astros’ manager, in his first season at the club’s helm, opted for the righty-hitting Marisnick, citing his defensive ability in center field.
“Jake’s going to make a great play tonight, there’s no doubt about it,” Hinch said before the game. “And I’m not sure where it’s going to be and how far into right field, into (George Springer’s) territory or how far into Colby’s territory. But I’ve got four center fielders on this team, and the best one’s Marisnick.”
Marisnick made good on his manager’s faith on both sides of the ball. The 24-year-old not only went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in the victory, but made a potentially game-changing diving catch in center field. Just as Hinch predicted.
“That’s a young, athletic team and they play great defense,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.Â “You talk about keeping a rally going – those were rally stoppers right there.”
After a solo home run from George Springer in the top of the fifth gave the Astros a two-run cushion, the Royals threatened to rally off Astros starter Collin McHugh in the bottom half of the frame. After a one-out single by Alex Gordon and a walk to Alex Rios, Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar lashed a sinking liner to center field that appeared destined to drive in a run.
But Marisnick, playing shallow to begin with and sprinting in on the ball, made a diving catch that forced both baserunners to stay put. McHugh then got Ben Zobrist to ground out, ending the inning.
McHugh yielded two runs on four hits over six innings to earn the win for Houston. The Astros’ starter pitched on both sides of a 49-minute rain delay following the second inning, which spelled the end for the 24-year-old Ventura. Veteran righty Chris Young struck out seven and allowed only one run across four innings in relief of Ventura.
Designated hitter Kendrys Morales accounted for all the Royals’ offense with a pair of solo homers off McHugh. Rasmus homered in the top of the eighth to extend the Astros’ lead to 5-2.
GALLERY: ASTROS vs. ROYALS