(Photo credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Houston Astros rookie right-hander J.P. France is in uncharted waters as he prepares to face the host Kansas City Royals in the second game of a three-game series on Saturday evening.
France (11-5, 3.61 ERA) already has thrown 146 1/3 innings between the Astros and his short stay at Triple-A Sugar Land earlier this season.
His previous lifetime high was 114 with Double-A Corpus Christi and Sugar Land in 2021. He threw 110 2/3 innings for Sugar Land last season.
Still, there's no indication the 28-year-old is running out of gas.
In his most recent outing, France limited the San Diego Padres to one run and four hits in six innings on Sunday, collecting another victory as the Astros won 12-2.
"Body feels really good," France told reporters afterward.
Houston needs France to keep getting outs after it lost the series opener 4-2 on Friday, giving up three solo home runs.
The first-place Astros have dropped three of their past four games, all against the teams with the two worst records in the majors, the Oakland A's (46-101) and the Royals (47-101). Houston (83-65) leads the American League West by a half-game over the Texas Rangers (82-65) and by 1 1/2 games over the Seattle Mariners (81-66).
France made five appearances, including three starts, with Sugar Land in April before making his major league debut with Houston on May 6, when he threw five shutout innings against the Mariners.
He has pitched at least six innings in 14 of his 21 big-league starts.
"All the way through high school, college, to now, I've always been able to go out and just eat innings," France said. "My main goal every time I go out there is to just eat up innings and give our guys a chance to win."
He also has shown an innate ability to make corrections in-game.
In his latest outing, he walked the bases loaded in the first inning before escaping the jam with help from pitching coach Josh Miller.
"Usually, I'm pretty good on picking up what's late or what's going on, but something was late," France said. "I don't know if it was hand break or what, but after that mound visit, I was able to settle down and get back into the zone and get to work."
Cole Ragans (6-4, 3.01 ERA) is set to start for the Royals on Saturday. The left-hander brought a 21-inning scoreless streak into his most recent start, on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays. However, he garnered the most attention for throwing three consecutive wild pitches that brought home two runs in the sixth inning and tied the score.
Toronto went on to win 5-2.
"I've never seen anything like it," Royals manager Matt Quatraro said.
Ragans brought a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning and retired the first two batters before walking Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Davis Schneider.
Alejandro Kirk then stepped to the plate and Ragans threw three consecutive pitches to the backstop, bringing home both Guerrero and then Schneider with the tying run.
"He dominated the whole entire game, and then it just was a little hiccup, I guess," Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. said.
Ragans would up charged with two runs on one hit and a career-high six walks in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out six.
Ragans, who was traded from the Rangers on June 30 in the deal that sent reliever Aroldis Chapman to Texas, threw four innings out of the bullpen against the Astros on April 15. He allowed two runs and five hits and took the loss in an 8-2 defeat.
In three career appearances (two starts) vs. Houston, Ragans is 0-2 with a 5.56 ERA.
--Field Level Media