The Astros led heading into the eighth inning. By the end of the ninth, they had lost.
Houston's offense had rallied in the bottom of the third for three runs. In doing so, they gave starting pitcher Jarred Cosart the lead. Cosart didn't give up any more runs in the remainder of his appearance, of which he exited after six frames. Anthony Bass gave the Astros a flawless seventh, but in the eighth, the bullpen could hold the lead no longer. Adam LaRoche took Raul Valdes for a ride with a double that tied the game.
In the ninth, Josh Fields entered. Just a week ago, Fields was arguably one of the best relievers on the staff. On April 22, the righty had a 2.00 ERA after nine appearances. After that day, Fields gave up eight runs over a third of an inning, spread out over two outings.
The trouble continued on Tuesday night. Fields started things off with a four-pitch walk to Denard Span. Span stole second base. After Anthony Rendon grounded out, sending Span to third, Fields walked Jayson Werth. LaRoche then singled to drive in Span for the eventual game-winning run. Of Fields' 22 pitches, nine were strikes. Three of those strikes were either groundouts or base hits. Fields' ERA for the season is now 9.58. In his last three appearances, Fields has a 60.90 ERA.
"Tonight, it was just command," Astros manager Bo Porter said afterwards. "You look at the walks. That's pretty much what hurt us. It's the ability to command your stuff in your strike zone and there's no defense for walks. You don't get a chance to defend the baseball. I've said this all along: when you come out of the bullpen, you have to throw strikes and give your defense a chance to defend the baseball."
"I felt just a little bit uncomfortable out there," Fields said. "I think it was just a little bit mechanical. I just couldn't quite find the rhythm out there."
After giving up five runs without getting an out in his last game, the reliever had rested some due to tightness in his quad. However, Fields said health was not a reason for his performance. There were no lingering effects.
The beginning of Fields' slump actually came during Cosart's previous start. On April 23 against the Mariners, Cosart left in the seventh with a 3-2 lead. Fields was charged with three earned runs in the ninth as Seattle rallied for victory on that day.
"That's part of the game," Cosart said. "That's baseball. Guys are going to struggle. I thought Fields has been pitching pretty well. Everybody down there's been pitching pretty well. It's just kind of how it falls. You get behind a few guys and a run scores."
Of course, Fields isn't alone as a struggling bullpen member. He's just perhaps the most visible struggling Astros reliever at the season's current juncture.
"We're just going to continue to give them opportunities," Porter said of his bullpen. "We understand their strengths and we're going to put them in position to be successful. And tonight, it just didn't happen."