HOUSTON (AP) — Lance McCullers Jr. was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery, Yuli Gurriel and George Springer homered and the Houston Astros beat the Seattle Mariners for the 15th straight time, 7-2 on Saturday.
McCullers (1-0) yielded five hits and two runs over six innings in his first game since the 2018 playoffs. He got double plays from his defense to escape jams in the first two innings before settling in to get the win, striking out six.
“It’s been a long time,” McCullers said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs through that time ... it’s been a long road. Two years is a long time so I’m just very grateful to get back and compete.”
Manager Dusty Baker was pleased with the way McCullers pitched after getting around the traffic on the bases early without giving up any runs.
“He probably had some pregame jitters, which is natural,” Baker said. “Usually the good pitchers, if you don’t get them early like that when you have them in trouble, they usually settle in pretty good.”
Houston went 18-1 against the Mariners last year and beat them 8-2 in the season opener Friday night. The Astros’ winning streak is their longest over one opponent in franchise history.
The Astros were up 1-0 when Gurriel started a four-run fourth with his solo shot to left field off Seattle starter Taijuan Walker (0-1). There were runners at first and second with one out in the inning when Kyle Tucker hit a grounder down the first base line for a double that made it 3-0 and chased Walker.
Martín Maldonado, who had two hits and two RBIs on Friday, drove in two more runs with a double later in the fourth that extended the lead to 5-0.
Walker allowed seven hits and five runs in 3 1/3 innings. Walker had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and pitched just one inning last season in his return.
“I felt good,” Walker said. “I think even the next one is going to be better ... my pitch count will be up a little more and the more I get comfortable with my routine and going out there and really knowing and seeing the hitters more. I haven’t pitched in a couple years.”
J.P. Crawford opened the fifth with a triple to center field, and Springer was shaken up when he crashed into the wall attempting to catch the ball. He was on the ground for a few seconds before slowing getting to his feet and remaining in the game.
Seattle cut the lead to 5-1 when Crawford scored on a groundout by Mallex Smith.
Mariners rookie Kyle Lewis homered for the second straight game with an opposite-field shot to the seats in right field with one out in the sixth to make it 6-2.
“The league is going quickly to see what kind of ability he has and how he can drive the ball to all fields,” manager Scott Servais said. “He’s in a really good spot, and the quality of at-bats is really, really good on him right now and a number of our guys.”
Springer’s homer off Nestor Cortes made it 7-2 with two outs in the sixth.
Houston closer Roberto Osuna pitched a scoreless ninth despite it not being a save situation. Baker said after the game that he was slowed in summer camp because a delay in receiving his initial coronavirus test results and his availability was uncertain entering this series.
REMEMBERING WATSON AND WYNN
The Astros played a pregame video tribute on Saturday to Jimmy Wynn and Bob Watson, who both died this offseason. Wynn and Watson both spent the majority of their major league careers with the Astros and worked with the franchise on community outreach in their later years. A moment of silence was observed after the video. Before their passing, the Astros honored the men by naming facilities after them at the Astros Youth Academy with the Jimmy Wynn Training Center and the Bob Watson Education Center.
Astros: INF Aledmys Díaz was placed on the 10-day injured list on Saturday after he strained his right groin in the opener. Houston recalled INF Taylor Jones to take his spot on the roster.
Houston’s Zack Greinke will oppose Seattle’s Yusei Kikuchi when the series continues Sunday. Greinke, who is in his first full season with the Astros after being traded to Houston last July, is 7-1 with a 1.85 ERA in 14 career appearances against the Mariners. Kikuchi was 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA against Houston last season.