HOUSTON -- The Astros were fully aware of what they were getting when they acquired veteran catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees during the offseason, and his influence for Houston goes well beyond the impact of his powerful bat.
While left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who will pitch for the Astros (9-5) against the Los Angeles Angels (7-8) on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, can cite improved health for his strong start to the season, having McCann behind the plate has been an additional benefit.
McCann has long been known for his skill in calling games. In three starts, he has provided Keuchel (2-0, 0.86 ERA) a steady hand as the backstop in their battery.
"I think he's challenged him, which is something you have to do with Dallas," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of McCann. "Pitch usage is always big with him, how much to implement his cutter versus his fastball. The usage of the change; he can sometimes overuse it. I think Brian has been good for him to emphasize pitching in before going straight to the changeup and getting hitters to respect both sides of the plate.
"And if anything, I think it's alleviated a little bit of Dallas' feel that it allows him to settle in, that he's got a lot of trust behind the plate. He had a ton of trust with (Jason) Castro last year. A pitcher-catcher relationship is important in general. I think with Dallas to an extreme, it's something that he values. Mac is a pretty good thinking catcher, and that resonates with Dallas."
Keuchel was 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA over two starts against the Angels last season. For his career, Keuchel is 9-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts).
Angels right-hander JC Ramirez (2-1, 7.20 ERA) makes his second career start Wednesday night. He opened his career with 111 consecutive relief appearances before starting against the Kansas City Royals on April 14 and allowing five runs on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts in five innings.
In 11 career appearances against the Astros, Ramirez has a 6.75 ERA and has not recorded a decision. He has been markedly better at Minute Maid Park, posting a 2.35 ERA over six career relief outings, all coming last season with the Angels.
Between right-handers Bud Norris and Cam Bedrosian, the Angels received strong relief work in beating the Astros 5-2 on Tuesday night. Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia on Monday lamented the overuse of his bullpen, but with right-hander Ricky Nolasco following righty Jesse Chavez with a second consecutive quality start, Scioscia was better equipped to set up his bullpen to succeed.
"Good job," Scioscia said. "Bud threw the ball really well. I think it was important for Ricky to get through six innings like we're talking about. You can set some things up. Bud Norris did a great job. Ball was coming out of his hand really well.
"The only fly was obviously (reliever) Jose (Alvarez), the leadoff walk to (Jake) Marisnick in the eighth, and then Cam came in and through the middle of the lineup and get a big double-play ball from (Carlos) Beltran, a big strikeout on (Jose) Altuve who's really tough to strike out. So, you know his stuff is good."
Astros' Keuchel, McCann ready for Angels