Verlander labors as Astros fall to Rangers

Posted at 10:44 PM, Jul 28, 2018


HOUSTON — Justin Verlander allowed nine hits, tying his season high, while lasting only five innings, as the Astros committed a season-high three errors and watched the Rangers club four home runs.

If that weren’t enough to make the Astros want to scrub the memory of Saturday’s 7-3 loss out of their minds, Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor went 5-for-5 and hit a pair of homers, including an inside-the-park homer in the fifth inning.

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The Astros have been outscored, 18-5, and been outhit, 29-11, in the first two games of the Lone Star Series.

"We’ve had a couple of brutal games in a row," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "Whether it’s errors or tough at-bats or just a lack of connected at-bats where we can do positive things a couple of guys in a row, when you lose a couple of games, especially the way we’ve lost them, you can point to a lot of things."

The Astros have lost three consecutive games — tying a season high — and will try to avoid being swept for the first time this year in Sunday’s finale against the Rangers at Minute Maid Park. They’ll be doing it without reigning Most Valuable Player Jose Altuve, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list with right knee soreness following the game.

Verlander (10-6), aiming for career win No. 199, needed 99 pitches to finish five innings, giving up a pair of runs while striking out seven batters. He went 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA in five July starts, striking out 46 batters in 30 innings.

"He had to work pretty hard, especially in the last inning," Hinch said. "This has been J.V.’s calling card for a lot of his career — when the run support’s not there, he has a very small margin for error, and he’s trying to work a little bit extra to make some perfect pitches, and he gets his pitch count up. He really did battle."

Isiah Kiner-Falefa took Verlander deep in the second inning, and Odor legged out an inside-the-park homer in the fifth that hit off the wall in right-center and caromed back toward center field. The homer put the Rangers ahead, 2-1.

"Other than that, it was a grind," Verlander said. "Those guys had a lot of traffic on the bases. It seemed like every time they hit a ball, it found a hole. That puts a lot of pressure on the starting pitcher. Obviously, you’re trying to go deep in games, but first and foremost, [you] try to limit runs. I don’t care if I go six or seven, if I give up four or five, we’re probably not going to win."

Odor homered to right in the seventh off reliever Ryan Pressly, whom the Astros acquired in a trade from the Twins on Friday and was making his debut with his new club.

Rangers starter Ariel Jurado (1-1) allowed two hits and one run in six innings in his second Major League start.

"The first time through the order, we hit a lot of ground balls," Hinch said. "We couldn’t get the ball in the air, and [Jurado] continued to be pretty effective moving the ball around a little bit, and he had essentially two pitches — fastball, slider. His fastball moves a little bit, and he had a little bit of velocity. When you don’t piece at-bats together successfully, the momentum shifts a little bit to the pitcher. He settled in and threw strikes and kept the ball on the ground."

George Springer homered in the fourth, and the Astros didn’t have another runner reach third base until Alex Bregman walloped a two-run homer in the ninth.

Verlander surpassed the 2,600-strikeout plateau in his career, making him the 26th pitcher in MLB history to reach that mark.

"We saw a little bit of what his strengths are. I know the 3-2 slider is the first slider he threw, and he gave up a homer, and then we saw the swing-and-miss stuff that we expected. And that’s what we traded for." — Hinch, on Pressly’s debut

The Astros face the Rangers for the final time in 2018 when Lance McCullers Jr. (10-5, 4.01 ERA) takes the mound at 1:10 p.m. CT Sunday at Minute Maid Park. After going 4-0 with a 2.60 ERA in seven starts from May 31-July 6, McCullers has allowed 11 earned runs and 10 hits in 8 1/3 innings, losing his last two starts. He walked five batters in both games. Lefty Mike Minor (6-6, 4.83) will start for Texas.