Rhett Kouba prides himself on consistency. He hates walks and fills up box scores with strikeouts, but his promotion to Sugar Land has told a different story.
Kouba’s success in Corpus Christi didn’t translate in his first two appearances for the Space Cowboys. In his Triple-A debut, the righty pitched five scoreless innings. He struck out two batters but issued five walks and yielded six hits.
In a line nearly opposite of his last with the Hooks, Kouba escaped jams with three double plays, working through an uncharacteristic start.
“Obviously, I’m not going to blame the zone. It always starts with me,” Kouba said. “Sometimes you struggle during the season, you just have to turn it around.”
The Houston Astros promoted Kouba to Triple-A Sugar Land on Aug. 26. Kouba ended his time in Double-A Corpus Christi with a 3.27 ERA, 118 strikeouts and 23 walks in 110 innings.
Kouba, who turned 24 years old Sunday, felt the growing pains of the Pacific Coast League bleed into his second appearance last Friday. He pitched three innings in relief, surrendering four runs on two hits and five walks with a strikeout.
But these early hurdles in Triple-A aren’t something Kouba is letting change his day-to-day preparation.
“After the game, I’m obviously a little frustrated because I have almost half as many (walks) here in two games than I did all season in Corpus,” Kouba said. “But basically, you got to go pitch-to-pitch. You can’t really let it affect you because that’s just when they continue to tack on.”
Kouba is scheduled to start for Sugar Land on Thursday. It will be his first outing with a slightly bigger strike zone — a change he finds intriguing but not relative to his success or his struggles.
“The goal this week is to hopefully just eliminate (walks) and put zeros up and hopefully help the team win,” Kouba said. “I’m just trying to stick to my roots … and not think like, ‘Oh, it’s Triple-A. We’re using the ABS system.’ All that isn’t anything. It’s the same game: 60 feet, 6 inches.”
Kouba doesn’t see much difference in the Pacific Coast League other than facing experienced hitters on rehab assignments or former major leaguers on their last legs. He found comfortability early on, even if his combined outings don’t read so.
Similar to rotation mate Colton Gordon, Kouba entered Sugar Land’s clubhouse to familiar faces. He pitched under manager Mickey Storey in the 2022 Arizona Fall League, played for Single-A Fayetteville development coach Wladimir Sutil in 2021 and crossed paths with others on staff at four different levels.
Storey, a former major-league pitcher, is an outlet for prospect arms. Kouba picked Storey’s mind last fall, but as he finds his footing in Triple-A, he’s going about his business first, keeping his head down.
“(Storey) and (pitching coach Erick) Abreu are obviously just two good guys to have in charge,” Kouba said. “It’s been good. I can’t complain that’s for sure.”