When postseason aspirations are no longer realistic, teams look for other sources of motivation to attain victories. The task of simply improving -- so that they aren't in the same position next season -- often does the trick. For the Astros, it's redemption.
The Astros close the series Sunday by getting another shot at Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle, who threw a two-hit shutout and struck out nine batters when he faced Houston on July 25 in Toronto. Astros manager Bo Porter said hitting coach John Mallee and assistant hitting coach Dan Radison will have his team better prepared this time around.
"At this level of baseball, it's about adjustments," Porter said. "If a guy gets you out one way, you cannot continue to let that guy or the league continue to get you out the same way. You have to make them either make an adjustment or make the adjustments of what it is they're doing to make them change what they're doing. They're not going to change until you make the change."
It had been four years since Buehrle had thrown a shutout. By the end of the night, the 34-year-old struck out nine Houston batters, including former Blue Jay Brett Wallace three times, racking up the most strikeouts he's had in one game since April 16, 2005.
"Today was one of those days that obviously I had a lot of stuff working for me," said Buehrle following his outing. "I'm sure a lot of people will be saying, obviously, this is the worst team in baseball. Record-wise, they're not very good, but in my mind, they're still big league hitters. If you make a mistake, they're going to make you pay for it."
Left-hander Dallas Keuchel will get the start for the Astros. He has held opponents to three or fewer runs in nine of his last 16 starts -- during which time the Astros have gone 7-9.
Sunday's start will be the first of Keuchel's career against Toronto. He's 3-3 with a 2.95 ERA in 10 starts at Minute Maid Park. The left-hander allowed four runs in four innings in a no-decision last Saturday against the Angels.
"[Keuchel] didn't have his best stuff tonight," Porter said after the game. "A lot of deep counts and it looked like he was not finishing his pitches."
Astros: Bedard moved to bullpen for remainder of season
Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard, who's been one of the Astros' most consistent starting pitchers, has been moved to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Manager Bo Porter said Saturday the club wants to use his spot in the rotation to get a look at a younger arm.
Bedard, 34, signed a Minor League deal with the Astros and won an Opening Day spot, though he briefly began the year in the bullpen before moving to the rotation. He's 3-9 with a 4.48 ERA in 25 games this year, including 23 starts. He wasn't happy with the decision.
The Astros will continue to employ a six-man rotation and will announce which player is going into the rotation in the next few days. Lucas Harrell will remain in the bullpen. One of the candidates is rookie David Martinez, who won 14 games between Triple-A and Double-A before being called up Wednesday.
"They said they looked at my last two years and my innings total was around where I'm at right now, and they said if I keep pitching I'll be about 40 over, and I said, 'Yeah, that's the point.' That's it. I'd rather stay in the rotation," Bedard said.
Blue Jays: Jenkins called up to help in bullpen
Right-hander Chad Jenkins officially rejoined the Blue Jays late Saturday afternoon with the move coming one day after right-hander Brad Lincoln was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo.
Jenkins made three starts for Toronto earlier this season and posted a respectable 3.60 ERA in 15 innings. He was then relegated to the Minors before his season was derailed because of a right shoulder injury.
The 25-year-old will serve in long relief along with right-hander Esmil Rogers to help a bullpen that has been overworked and is looking for a break over the final five weeks of the year.
• The Astros entered the series vs. Toronto with the second-worst offense in the American League, but have been firing on all cylinders against the Blue Jays' pitching staff. Houston has scored 20 runs in the first two games of the series and will be looking for the sweep on Sunday afternoon.
• The Blue Jays have lost seven consecutive games, which ties a season high from July 14-24. Toronto also finds itself a season-high 16 games below .500 and is 12-24 (.333) since winning a season-high 11 games from June 11-23, which is the second lowest winning percentage in the AL over that span.
• Prior to this weekend, Houston hadn't won a home series since taking two of three games from the Brewers from June 18-20. The Astros are 6-5 in their last 11 games overall.