Sec­ond start ‘wasn’t sharp’ for Keuchel

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Kristie Rieken MORE ON­LINE

Rookie Austin Pruitt knew he had a cou­ple hun­dred friends and fam­ily at Minute Maid Park on Wed­nes­day night to watch him pitch for the Tampa Bay Rays in the city where he grew up.

B ut t he right-han­der re­fused to even look for them be­fore his work was done.

Then af­ter he com­pleted the bulk of what would be a com­bined five-hit­ter in a 3-0 win over the Hous­ton Astros, the stoic Pruitt cracked a smiled and fixed his eyes on where his per­sonal cheer­ing sec­tion was as­sem­bled.

“When­ever I got pulled I tried to look at every­body and kind of show every­body a lit­tle bit of love,” he said.

It was the first loss of the sea­son for Hous­ton ace Dal­las Keuchel, who was still try­ing to re­gain his form in his sec­ond start af­ter miss­ing al­most two months with a pinched nerve in his neck.

“He wasn’t lo­cat­ing his pitches. He wasn’t sharp,” man­ager A.J. Hinch said. “From start to start, you look back at how much time he missed and then the re­hab starts and this be­ing his sec- ond start, this was a step in the right di­rec­tion, but his com­mand wasn’t sharp.”

Lo­gan Mor­ri­son hit a tworun homer. He also con­nected Tues­day night, snap­ping his sea­son-long 12-game homer- less streak.

The AL West-lead­ing Astros, whose pow­er­ful of­fense has taken a hit with All-Stars Car­los Cor­rea and Ge­orge Springer on the dis­abled list, went 0 for 9 with run­ners in scor­ing po­si­tion and were shut out for the sec­ond time in a week.

Pruitt (6-2), who grew up in sub­ur­ban Hous­ton and at­tended the Univer­sity of Hous­ton, al­lowed five hits in a ca­reer-high 6⅓ in­nings.

“Austin Pruitt was awe­some ... I knew he was ex­cited to pitch here and all the talk about it, but to go out and per­form like that had to be pretty spe­cial for him,” man- ager Kevin Cash said.

Steve Cishek walked one in 1⅓ in­nings, and Dan Jen­nings got the last out of the eighth be­fore Alex Colome walked one in the ninth in get­ting his 32nd save.

Keuchel (9-1) gave up Trevor Plouffe’s one-out sin­gle in the first and Mor­ri­son hits his 28th home run with two outs.

Keuchel al­lowed seven hits and three runs in five in­nings.

The lefty ace was bet­ter than he was in his pre­vi­ous start, when he lasted just three in­nings and gave up three runs at Detroit. But he was far from the dom­i­nant pitcher he was be­fore his sec­ond trip to the dis­abled list, when he was 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 11 starts.

Two years ago, Iowa State’s Mike Warren es­tab­lished him­self as one of the na­tion’s most prom- ising young run­ning backs.

Late last sea­son, David Mont­gomery did the same thing.

The Cy­clones are hop­ing the pair will give them a suc­cess­ful run­ning game af­ter a 3-9 record last sea­son.

Iowa State en­ters 2017 with two of the Big 12’s more in­trigu­ing backs in Warren, who ran for more than 1,300 yards in 2015, and Mont­gom- ery, who rushed for more than 140 yards in two of his fi­nal three games last year.

Mont­gomery, a sopho­more, will likely open the sea­son as the starter. But Warren, a red­shirt ju­nior, should see plenty of play­ing time — and sec­ond-year coach Matt Camp­bell said the com­peti- tion for play­ing time was so friendly that the two be­came close in the off­sea­son.

“I’ll be hon­est with you. Early on I’m like ‘Is this re­ally real, or is this phony?’ But as I saw and watched them feed­ing off of each other ... those two have made each other bet­ter,” Camp­bell said Thurs­day dur­ing the team’s an­nual me­dia day.

Camp­bell opened his first sea­son at Iowa State be­liev- ing Warren was a star in the making.

Though Warren had an in­jury-rid­dled and disap- point­ing sea­son a year ago, Iowa State re­mains con­fi­dent that he can be a dif­fer­ence maker.

Warren was over­looked as a re­cruit be­cause he didn’t peak un­til his se­nior year, rush­ing for 2,512 yards on 9.3 yards a carry. Warren com­mit­ted to Camp­bell at Toledo, later switch­ing to Iowa State for an op­por­tu­nity to play at a Power Five school.

Af­ter a red­shirt sea­son, Warren re­united with Camp­bell and av­er­aged a school record 5.9 yards per carry while gain­ing the third-most yards by a fresh­man in league his­tory.

But Warren strug­gled to play through a high-an­kle sprain last sea­son and was lim­ited to just 559 yards. Camp­bell also pub­licly chal- lenged Warren for his ef­fort at times last sea­son, but he said Warren re-ded­i­cated him- self in the off­sea­son and was one of team’s most im­pres­sive work­ers.

“There wasn’t any thought at all (about trans­fer­ring),” Warren said. “I think it’s paid off so far.”

If there was a bright side to Warren’s strug­gles in 2016, it was that they gave Mont- gomery a shot much ear­lier than ex­pected.

Mont­gomery, a high school quar­ter­back, blos­somed last Novem­ber. He fin­ished with 563 yards — but 341 of those came in Iowa State’s fi­nal three games.

Mont­gomery had 169 yards in a win over Kansas that snapped a five-game los- ing streak and 141 more in a sea­son-end­ing loss to West Virginia.

Mont­gomery also caught 13 passes in 2016, a num­ber that could ex­pand greatly as the coach­ing staff seeks ways to get Mont­gomery and Warren on the field to­gether.

“Mike is a great guy. He helped me a lot when I got here, and my big­gest thing was just to help him. If he can help me, I know I can help him,” Mont­gomery said. “He pushes me. I push him.”

Warren and Mont­gomery’s suc­cess in 2017 will hinge partly on the de­velop- ment of a re­built of­fen­sive line. But both have proven they can play in the Big 12, and keep­ing Warren and Mont­gomery healthy and fresh could help Iowa State reach its first bowl game in five years

The Cy­clones host North­ern Iowa of the FCS on Sept. 2.

“I wouldn’t re­ally see it as com­pe­ti­tion. I would see it as like tough love al­most,” Warren said. “It’s more like tough love from our peers, and we need that to grow.”

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