The Express returned to Round Rock last week, opening up the season with seven games against the Nashville Sounds and Memphis Redbirds.
The Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros won four of seven games in their first homestand of the season, falling to Nashville 3-1 in the home opener last Tuesday and losing to Memphis 10-2 on Monday afternoon.
“The Round Rock faithful came out to see the Astros in town and they put together a nice little program,” Mickey Storey said after the home opener. “Unfortunately we didn’t back it up with a win. It was tight all the way through.”
In his Round Rock and Triple-A debut, top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley had a solid start for the Express in the first game at Dell Diamond, lasting five innings and allowing two runs on three hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.
“I was super happy with my performance,” Whitley said. “I felt like I was controlling the delivery pretty well. It was exactly what I was expecting. You make a mistake against a Triple-A hitter and they’re going to hit it. That’s exactly what happened tonight.”
His second start of the season was less impressive as he gave up five runs on four hits with two walks and one strikeout in Round Rock’s 10-2 loss to the Redbirds on Monday afternoon.
Whitley was consistent with his velocity, throwing in the mid to high 90s.
The opening series saw the Rangers’ affiliate come back to Round Rock. The Express and Rangers were linked from 2011 until 2018 and current Sound manager Jason Wood spent the last four seasons.
“It was nice to be back in familiar territory,” Wood said. “I knew we had a job to do and come here and try to win a ballgame. But I try not to get too caught up in that.”
Former Express third baseman Andy Ibanez got the scoring started for Nashville in the second inning when he grounded out and drove in Danny Santana. Sounds catcher Jett Bandy smoked a solo home run over the left-field wall to add to the lead one inning later.
The first home run at Dell Dimond of this Astros era in Round Rock belongs to Derek Fisher when he hit his fourth of the season to cut the Nashville lead in half.
Willie Calhoun, who joined the Texas organization in the trade that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers and spent parts of two seasons with the Express, hit a solo home run in the ninth to seal the win for Nashville.
“Willie has grown into himself and he’s comfortable with where he is,” Wood said. “The guy is a pure hitter with lightning-fast hands and he’ll hit in any ballpark. He had a big smile on his face all night and he’s happy to be here. It was great to see the fan reaction to him.”
Yordan Alvarez has gotten off to a hot start with Round Rock this season, blasting a team-best six home runs and driving in 12 runs in 11 games this season. Fisher has five homers and 10 RBIs this year.
Houston’s top hitting prospect Kyle Tucker is just 4-for-37 (.195) in 11 games this season with one home run and three RBIs.
Round Rock is on the road against the Sounds and the Redbirds over the next week. The Express have an off day on Tuesday and return to Dell Diamond for a five-game homestand against the New Orleans Baby Cakes beginning on April 24.
“I like where we’re at,” Storey said. “When we hit, we really hit, and when we don’t it seems like not quite enough. I’m sure we’ll balance that out at some point.”