5/12/2014 8:32 P.M. ET
Astros' pitchers using their ground game
By Chris Abshire / Special to MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Even more than strikeouts, ground balls can be a pitcher's best friend.
The Astros' pitching staff has coaxed them out of hitters often this season, compiling the best ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio in the American League at 1.67-to-1 entering Monday.
That mark is good for fifth in the Majors, and three Houston starters are among the top 10 in the AL and keeping things low.
Jarred Cosart (2.11, seventh), Scott Feldman (2.38, sixth) and Dallas Keuchel (3.57, first) are the stalwarts in getting grounders, something manager Bo Porter said he envisioned out of Spring Training.
"That's one of the things we factored in building our staff is that we knew we had a lot of ground-ball guys," Porter said. "I'm pleased with their locating and ability to let our defense play."
Speaking of defense, Porter said the Astros are such a shift-heavy team because of the pitchers' affinity for groundouts.
"That's why we put such an emphasis on positioning and making sure we're maximizing our ability specifically to defend grounders," Porter said. "We'd be throwing guys in the outfield more if there were a bunch of balls in the air."
Keuchel has been the surprise of the Houston staff this season, recovering from a rocky back half of 2013 to go 3-2 with a 3.68 ERA through seven starts.
He's done it with a prodigious ground-ball ratio and improved strikeout numbers. Keuchel said he's noticed a combination of extra movement, increased velocity and more pitching savvy has contributed to the ground raid this season.
"Just from few of those early games, i can tell my two-seam has a little bit more late life than it usually does," Keuchel said. "… Might have one or two more ticks on my fastball. I haven't really deviated from anything. I'm throwing the same pitches I did last year, I just think more are strikes and more are placed low in the zone."
As for whether he considers himself a ground-ball pitcher, the lefty had no hesitation.
"Most certainly," Keuchel said. "In college, that was my bread and butter with the two-seamer and the changeup. If I'm not getting ground balls, I'm probably getting hit."
Albers' rehab 'in a holding pattern'
HOUSTON -- Astros reliever Matt Albers is still several days away from even throwing again, the right-hander confirmed on Monday.
Albers, who has missed 19 games with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, scrapped his simulated start on Friday because of discomfort during warmups. That's pushed his timeline back as he remains on the 15-day disabled list.
"I feel OK, it's just when I'm playing catch, it feels good," he said. "When you let it go, not as great. Kind of shut down the sim game, didn't want to push it and make things worse."
Albers said he's "in a holding pattern for now" as he awaits further rehab. He's limited to exercise and stretching without much of a timetable since he isn't even playing catch.
"I've taken the last couple days off and will decide in the next couple days when to start throwing again," Albers said, "No exact plan, but I want to get throwing soon."
Astros manager Bo Porter said he's awaiting doctor's evaluations on the shoulder before he plans for Albers' return.
Nolan thinks Astros can take strides similar to Rangers
HOUSTON -- No one understands the Lone Star Series quite like Nolan Ryan.
The pitching legend has his jersey retired by both the Rangers and Astros, and the new Houston executive advisor is barely six months removed from his time as the Rangers' CEO and part-owner.
Ryan welcomed his former club to Minute Maid Park for a three-game set, and he spoke before the game about his new role in Houston and his time in Arlington.
"It's interesting to have them come in to Houston," he said. "You hope somewhere down the road when they're both competing for the division, there'll be a lot of interest in [this series]."
While he was with the Rangers, they reached two World Series and became one of baseball's most consistent clubs. With the Astros, he said, it's a mindset similar to where Texas was before winning big.
"You take the Rangers ballclub, it's a veteran one with some outstanding talent now. But when I started, the veterans were sprinkled in and they were calling up talent," he said. "You have to be willing to have the payroll they have for that caliber. You can't really compare the Rangers and the Astros right now because of that."
Ryan said that starts with the farm system, where Houston is among the league's best.
Though Ryan said he hopes to do further scouting this summer, he's already pleased with the state of the arms on Houston's Minor League rosters.
"One thing encouraging about the Astros' system is that they have quality arms pretty much on every level," the former hard-throwing righty said. "They might not all get here at the same time, but in a short period they'll make a difference with this staff."
For now, Ryan's role is still more as consultant than hands-on advisor. But he said don't expect him to be as involved in Houston's day-to-day operations as he was in Arlington.
"They're developing," Ryan chuckled at a question about his responsibilities in the organization. "That's the best way to put it.
"I'm at a different point in my life and I see my role different now than when I was with the Rangers. That part of my career is behind me."
As for any rivalry between the Astros and the Rangers, the Alvin, Texas, native said the series isn't on that level yet.
"I don't think it's a real rivalry because it hasn't been very competitive recently," he said. "I don't think the teams view it as one yet but it's just a matter of time.
"The Astros are a young ballclub and haven't had the success the Rangers have had recently, so I think because of that [the Astros] take a lot of pride in beating them."
Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.