Astros' Norris turning in dominant month

Norris has a 0.35 ERA this month

The Houston Astros are playing above preseason expectations so far this season, and right-handed starting pitcher Bud Norris is a big reason why. Entering Saturday's start against the Dodgers, Norris has a 0.35 earned-run average in May.

Bud Norris has been the best pitcher in baseball for the first 25 days of May.

On top of four wins in four starts, Norris has fashioned a 0.35 ERA. The next-closest ERA belongs to Zach Greinke, who checks in at nearly a run higher (1.33).

Norris will put his status -- not to mention the first four-game winning streak of his career -- to the test Saturday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to Houston 3-1 Friday but still have baseball's best record overall (30-15) and at home (19-5). Thanks to his May run, his career record has crept above .500 (26-25) -- no small feat, given the Astros' struggles in recent years.

Astros bench coach Joe Pettini, for one, assumed Norris always had this sort of dominance in him.

It's pretty much the same Norris that Pettini saw from the opposing dugout as a St. Louis Cardinals bench coach.

"I see him pitching here the same way he pitched against us the years I was in St. Louis," said Pettini, who watched Norris go 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA and a .213 batting average allowed as St. Louis Cardinals bench coach to Tony La Russa. "A lot of times, the St. Louis guys -- Albert (Pujols) and Matt (Holliday) -- couldn't figure out how he was doing it. But he kept doing it against us.

"He was going after hitters, getting them out. It was simple, but he made it work."

The Astros are 8-1 in the games he starts, and his performance has a lot to do with the staff leading the National League in ERA in May (2.67, 60 earned runs in 202 innings). In his most recent outing this past Tuesday, he shut out the Chicago Cubs for seven innings of an 8-4 victory. The only earned run of the month was a fourth-inning solo homer by Milwaukee's Corey Hart the start before that in an 8-3 Astros victory.

"I feel good," said Norris, who has struck out 58 batters in 57 1/3 innings. "I've been throwing the ball well, kind of staying within the routine. We're all taking it one step at a time, just trying to keep it going."

Astros catcher Jason Castro said Norris has been on the attack more than ever, getting ahead in the count and then finishing off hitters from there. Norris has thrown strikes 65.7 percent of the time (270 for 411) in his past four starts, compared to his 62.0 percent norm entering this season.

"It's a confidence thing," Castro said. "He's really got a feel for what he's trying to do out there. You can tell, no matter what pitch I call and what we go with, he's fully confident in what he's trying to do. That's a huge part of pitching -- to be confident of your stuff. No matter what the count is or what the pitch you're throwing, you can get the guy out on that pitch."



Astros Notes & Quotes

  • RHP Lucas Harrell picked up his fourth win of the season and his fifth of his career in style, outdoing reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw 3-1 on Friday.

    Harrell worked a career-high 7 1/3 innings, allowing one run on five hits with three walks. He got 16 of his 22 outs on ground balls and escaped two-on, one-out jams three times without allowing a run.

    "It's a big win for this team," said Harrell, who lowered his ERA from 4.09 to 3.72. "We battled and we played good. We have a little streak here going. I just kind of followed suit."

  • LF J.D. Martinez went 2-for-4, bashing a two-run homer off LHP Clayton Kershaw in the third inning. In the past three games, Martinez is 5-for-12 and has driven in six runs. Martinez also produced a hard takeout slide in the first inning, forcing a throwing error by 2B Elian Herrera that scored a run.

  • 2B Jose Altuve went 2-for-5 with two doubles. He lifted his average from .309 to .312 as the leadoff man in an all-right-handed lineup against Clayton Kershaw.

  • RH reliever Brett Myers worked a scoreless ninth inning for his 12th save in 13 chances. Myers has allowed only 11 hits and three walks in 17 innings.

  • LH reliever Wesley Wright had a rare lapse, walking left-handed-hitting Bobby Abreu and allowing a single to Andre Ethier in the eighth inning. Lefty hitters entered the game 3-for-54 against Wright since the start of 2011.

  • CF Jordan Schafer got a scheduled night off with LHP Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers on Friday. A sore right toe -- sustained when he fouled a ball off the foot during last weekend's series against Texas -- makes his availability the next few days questionable. Though Schafer took early batting practice on Friday, he was eager to get his foot out of his shoe.

    "It still doesn't feel very good," Schafer said. "It's still extremely sore. It's feeling a lot better than it did. It's not continuously throbbing, but it's still hard to get my foot in the shoe."

  • By the Numbers: 0 – Swings and misses and strikeouts RHP Lucas Harrell had during his 7 1/3-inning, one-run, 94-pitch outing against the Dodgers on Friday.

  • Quote to Note: "We're good. I like this team." -- RHP Lucas Harrell, on the Astros, who on Friday inched to within one game of .500 (22-23). They went 56-106 last season.
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