Team scrimmage news and notes

Deshaun Watson and Randall Cobb established chemistry during Texans' team scrimmage

Photo Courtesy of the Houston Texans

Back up quarterback A.J. McCarron and running back Buddy Howell were left baffled by the results of the previous play. With the ball in their possession, there was a miss-communication between McCarron and Howell that resulted in a failed handoff. As the ball fell to the ground bouncing freely, outside linebacker Jacob Martin gained its possession to score a touchdown for the defense.

Head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien described Martin's defensive act as an example of the high "energy" he plays with, and it was one of several highlights that took place inside the NRG Stadium, Thursday night, during the Houston Texans' team scrimmage.

On a night when the Texans witnessed Deshaun Watson establishing chemistry with Randall Cobb on a few deep throws and an improved pass-rush defense, ended with their star quarterback along with Kenny Stills, Michael Thomas, and J.J. Watt leading a discussion at midfield about social injustice. The passionate team meeting was the pinnacle of Houston's team scrimmage.

"We spoke with players and we just felt that, relative to everything that's going on, we had some good discussions today — these are ongoing discussions," O'Brien said. "As a team, we decided that we want to go out there and scrimmage — get something done. We play two weeks from now, so we felt like that was important. We also felt like it was important to give the guys time to talk about things."

The uproar over the shooting of Jacob Blake — an unarmed African American male who was shot seven times by Wisconsin police on Sunday — reached its tipping point in the world of sports on Wednesday.

The Milwaukee Bucks set off a chain reaction by boycotting their playoff game against the Orlando Magic that resulted in an abundance of professional teams canceling their planned events. In the NFL, nine teams canceled practice — including the Washington Football Team, who postponed their scheduled team scrimmage on Thursday. But with their season set to begin against the Chiefs in less than two weeks, the Texans — as a team — felt it was best to proceed with their planned scrimmage while keeping the fight against social injustice at the forefront.

Stills, who was emotionally distraught during practice on Monday, had a performance that could have been detrimental to an opponent team's defense. He connected with Watson on several pass attempts, and recorded a touchdown in the process. The team scrimmage might have been enough for safety A.J. Moore to gain more playing time in 2020, as the third-year defensive back notched a sack and an interception on McCarron.

Unfortunately, Houston's team scrimmage did not end without a visit from the always unwanted injury bug. Wide receiver Chad Hansen sustained an apparent shoulder injury after taking a hit by cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. O'Brien said there will be more information on Hansen's injury on Friday.

As the players departed the field to head to the locker room, one significant theme stood out following Thursday's team scrimmage. The Texans' fight to help end systemic racism is just as serious as their quest to capture their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2020.

"I think Doc Rivers, what he said after their game really hit home for me," O'Brien said. "I think that's something that should be played on loop. It was so passionate and just so real. I just have a lot of respect for Doc. I think Andy Reid had some great things to say. I would say the big word is 'empathy' and how can we come together and figure out how to put actions in place that create change."

"I think that's what our players are talking about. Our players are very bright guys and we have a lot of good pros on this team. They wanted to scrimmage and they also wanted to talk about what's going on. So, we'll just keep working on it."

Absent from Thursday's scrimmage: Dylan Cole. Brandin Cooks. Isaiah Coulter. Keke Coutee. Phillip Gaines. Cullen Gillaspia. Jonathan Greenard. J.J. Watt.

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Altuve's homer starting the scoring for Houston on Friday night. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After a solid showing to take the three of the four-game series in Arlington against the Rangers to start the week, the Astros returned home for three against the Diamondbacks in a weekend series. They would have a slow start to the opener but would ultimately come away victorious.

Final Score (10 innings): Astros 4, Diamondbacks 3

Astros' Record: 87-60, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Tyler Clippard (1-1)

Bielak makes the impromptu start

With Luis Garcia having to move his start ahead by a day on Thursday instead of Friday with Framber Valdez's finger cut, Brandon Bielak made a start for Houston in the opener against Arizona. He didn't go as deep as he probably would have wanted and certainly ventured out of his comfort zone with traffic on the bases.

He loaded the bases in the top of the first, allowing a single and two walks, but was able to strand all three to keep it a scoreless game. He rebounded with a 1-2-3 second, but he dealt with a threat again in the third as back-to-back singles pressured him to start the inning. He would get back-to-back strikeouts, but that's as far as he would go as Houston moved on to Blake Taylor. Taylor got the final out of the third on one pitch, then erased a two-out double in the top of the fourth.

Altuve breaks up the no-no with a go-ahead homer

Brooks Raley took over in the top of the fifth, but in his three batters, he faced allowed a single while getting two outs before Cristian Javier took over to end the frame. Javier allowed the first run of the game in the top of the sixth, a leadoff solo homer to Kole Calhoun to put the Diamondbacks in front 1-0 before he finished the inning.

Madison Bumgarner didn't allow a single hit to the Astros through the first five and two-thirds innings. He allowed a one-out walk in the bottom of the sixth, which proved costly as Jose Altuve would get the first knock of the game for Houston, a two-run go-ahead homer. Phil Maton was the next reliever for the Astros in the top of the seventh, maintaining the new one-run lead by erasing a leadoff single.

Astros get the win in extras

The Diamondbacks tied it up in the top of the eighth against Kendall Graveman, getting a leadoff single followed by a walk, then later an RBI single to knot things up 2-2. Houston stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth, then brought in Ryan Pressly, who tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth to keep the game tied.

Despite getting the winning run in scoring position with a leadoff ground-rule double by Jason Castro to start the bottom of the ninth, they would strand it as the game went to extras. Arizona scored their free runner in the top of the tenth, getting a sac fly to move it to third then going in front on an RBI single.

The Astros matched that and more in the bottom of the inning, moving their runner to third on a lineout to start the frame, followed by an intentional walk to Yordan Alvarez. Jake Meyers tied the game with an RBI single, then after another walk to load the bases, Chas McCormick was hit by a pitch to bring in the winning run, moving the Astros closer to clinching their playoff berth.

Up Next: The middle game of this three-game set will have a start time of 6:10 PM Central on Saturday. Tyler Gilbert (2-2, 3.15 ERA) is expected to make a start for Arizona, while Lance McCullers Jr. (12-4, 3.12 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston.

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