• Brian L. Barefield

“Run With Caution”

Photo Credit-Houston Astros

Opposing batters have a lot to think about when facing the Houston Astros. When they are at the plate, they are staring into the faces of one of the best pitching staff in baseball over the last two months.

If the hitter puts the ball in play in the infield, there are Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners that won’t allow anything to make it into the outfield.

But, if the ball just so happens to squeeze through the gap between first and second base and rolls into right field, there is a guy handling his area that comes with a warning label to base runners that says, “Run with caution.”

Texas Rangers left fielder Brad Miller found out early in the Astros’ 2-1 victory over the Rangers that you don’t test the arm of Kyle Tucker. Miller reached base on an error by catcher Jason Castro and advanced to second base when teammate Marcus Semien singled through the hole at shortstop.

Adolis Chapman hit a single into right field with one out, and Miller advanced from second base to home plate. He did not expect to be greeted by a Tucker rocket to Castro to get him out at the plate, saving a run for starting pitcher Justin Verlander.

“As soon as I saw the ball coming out of his hand, you can read trajectory,” said Castro. “I play catch with him every day, so I know what the ball looks like. He throws a true ball. It doesn’t have much tail on it.”

Photo Credit-Houston Astros

Teams are starting to realize that trying to advance on Tucker is something you might want to reconsider. He finished as a Gold Glove finalist in each of the last two seasons as he recorded 246 putouts in 2021, which ranked him second among American League right fielders. The All-MLB Second Team selection also tied for first with New York Yankee right fielder Aaron Judge for defensive runs saved with 11.

“I know that last year he was metrically one of the best right fielders in baseball and I think I am seeing that now,” Justin Verlander said. “Almost every night he makes an excellent throw or makes a nice catch. He’s been nothing short of excellent out there and on a game like tonight you can see how that can shift momentum right away.”

After losing 3-0 the day before to the Rangers, the Astros knew that preventing early runs would help keep them in the game because Verlander has been dominating the mound lately. Tucker’s brilliant defensive play helped do that.

“I told him (Tucker) after the game that ‘You saved the game,’” said Astros manager Dusty Baker. “A lot of time people think that a game is saved in the ninth inning, but that was a game saver at that time. It was on the money and a good tag. Tucker has been playing lights out.”

Houston will conclude their four-game series with Texas on Sunday. The first pitch is at 1:10 p.m.

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