SEATTLE -- The Astros' early-season hitting woes have more to do with execution than philosophy, manager Bo Porter said. It boils down to the hitters finding better pitches to swing at and chasing fewer pitches out of the zone.
Astros starters haven't been working deep into games because of high pitch counts, while several opposing starters have been able to go through the Astros lineup with efficiency. Porter compared it to a football team that drives the length of the field to score, and then watches the other team go three-and-out and punt.
John Mallee, Houston's first-year hitting coach, said the hitters were more patient during Spring Training than they have been in the first week of the regular season.
"We had a pretty good Opening Night, but our strikeouts are up and I think it's because we're chasing a lot early in the count," Mallee said. "We're trying to be more selective now and get better pitches to drive early in the count. I think in the spring we did a really good job of being a little more patient, being ready to hit from the first pitch on, but being selective enough to watch for a pitch we can drive. I think we're getting a little anxious to try to swing our way out of it and started expanding the zone."
The Astros have lost six games in a row following an Opening Night win over the Rangers, including three by shutout, and are hitting .188 in that span. They've struck out 82 times in seven games, whiffing 13 or more five times a game.
"They're really good hitters, and sometimes we start to press a little bit," Mallee said. "We haven't scored a lot of runs and we try to create those runs by being ultra aggressive. So we need to tone it back a little bit and try to get a better pitch to hit. It doesn't mean we're not going to attack early in the count, it's just making sure we're attacking the right pitches early in the count."
Martinez in lineup, moves on from 'mental mistake'
SEATTLE -- Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez, who was pulled from Monday's game following his fourth inning at-bat, was back in the lineup Tuesday against the Mariners, starting in right field. Martinez was pulled for what he deemed a "mental mistake," and the outfielder said he and manager Bo Porter had a good talk.
Martinez swung at the first pitch in his fourth-inning at-bat and popped out, apparently chasing a pitch out of the strike zone. The Astros are preaching to the hitters to swing at good pitches and not to chase bad pitches, which only helps the opposing pitcher.
"Like I said yesterday to you guys, I understood the situation and we talked about it and put it behind us," Martinez said. "We still have a lot more games left to play and it's behind us and we're ready to move forward. Today's a new day.
"We settled it and [Porter] said, 'You're back in there today because it's behind us. Time to move forward.'"
Porter said he had Martinez in the lineup prior to talking to him earlier Tuesday.
"What happened yesterday was yesterday, and my decision was made yesterday and today's a different day and we're going to move forward," Porter said. "I think the message is consistent. I think the guys understand we're going to be fair and they understand the standards that have been set."
Martinez believes if the Astros can get out of their offensive funk, it will take a mounting burden off the hitters. Houston has scored nine runs in six games since an Opening Night win over Texas.
"I feel like there's a little bit of tension in the room," Martinez said. "You want to win, you want everything perfect. I think it's just go out there and play baseball, play for each other. They always say, 'Play for the guy behind you,' just going out there and enjoying it and having fun and getting the pressure and monkey off our backs."
Castro hits third as Porter continues to tweak lineup
SEATTLE -- With the exception of Jose Altuve hitting leadoff as he's done for all eight games this year, Astros manager Bo Porter continues to tinker with the lineup to try to find the right combination. That meant catcher Jason Castro was hitting third for the first time this season Tuesday against the Mariners.
Chris Carter (four games), Carlos Pena (two games) and J.D. Martinez (one game) have hit also hit third this year as the Astros have used eight different lineups in eight games.
"We're just trying to find the right combination and get guys into slots where they're going to be productive," Porter said.
Castro had never started a game higher than the No. 4 spot prior to Tuesday. The third spot is typically reserved for the team's best hitter, and the Astros are still trying to identify who that might be.
"It's obviously a great spot in the lineup," said Castro, who singled and scored in the first inning Tuesday. "A lot of action is going on. There's typically a lot of guys on base in front of you. Hopefully, getting this opportunity I can capitalize on it. It's somewhere I like to hi. I'll do any job they need me to do, and hopefully I can go out there and show them it was a good idea to have me in the three-hole today."
• Dave Trembley returned to Safeco Field this week for the first time since his days as the manager of the Orioles. The Astros' third-base coach recalled being ejected during a game in 2009 at Safeco Field, which was one of his nine career ejections as a manager.
In that game, Trembley was ejected for excessive arguing with home-plate umpire Tom Hallion, and he spiked his cap near home plate in anger before storming back to the dugout and into the tunnel to the clubhouse.