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Astros threaten club exit velocity record in rout 

@brianmctaggart
April 20, 2019

ARLINGTON -- The leadoff double rocketed to left field by George Springer, which registered an exit velocity of 114.2 mph, to start Friday night’s game against the Rangers was the hardest hit ball of the night for the Astros. It was a sign of things to come. The Astros bashed

ARLINGTON -- The leadoff double rocketed to left field by George Springer, which registered an exit velocity of 114.2 mph, to start Friday night’s game against the Rangers was the hardest hit ball of the night for the Astros. It was a sign of things to come.

The Astros bashed 11 hits -- including seven extra-base hits, tying their season high -- in an impressive showing of line drives all around Globe Life Park to back seven strong innings from ace Justin Verlander and beat the Rangers, 7-2, in the series opener. The Astros have won 11 of their last 12 games.

After Springer tagged a Drew Smyly pitch to start the game, José Altuve followed with a 109.3-mph homer. Alex Bregman then joined in by drilling a 102.2-mph homer to power Houston to a 3-0 lead in the first.

The Astros started the fifth with consecutive doubles by Michael Brantley (107 mph), Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel to take a 6-0 lead. A two-out double off the bat of Springer would eventually make it a seven-run cushion.

“We had a pretty good game plan going in and I like it when we execute it as a team,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “We had a pretty good idea [of] what Smyly was going to do against us based on how he pitches. He threw a few more changeups the second time through and third time through because we came out so aggressive on his fastball. When we have a team offense like that, it’s contagious and guys get into it.”

Smyly, who struck out eight batters, needed 102 pitches to throw 3 2/3 innings as the Astros feasted against his fastball the first time through the order. The Astros averaged a 100.8-mph exit velocity against Smyly’s four-seam fastball.

“We made him work, but when he came inside the strike zone we put some really good swings on it,” Hinch said.

How impressive was the Astros’ laser show? They had six batters hit balls with an exit velocity of at least 100 mph the first time through the order en route to 12 100-mph-plus exit velocities in the game, which is one shy of their most since Statcast began in 2015. The most 100-mph-plus exit velocities recorded in a nine-inning game are 20 by the Nationals on April 30, 2017, when they scored 23 against the Mets and homered seven times.

“I think we did a good job of looking for a good pitch to hit and putting a good swing on it,” Bregman said. “[Smyly] has really good stuff and Springer did a great job getting us going, and Altuve right after him. Then Smyly went to the changeup later in the game, something we haven’t seen from him really. It was dirty.”

Even when they were making outs, the Astros were drilling the baseball. Correa lined into a double play in the sixth that had a 111.3-mph exit velocity, which was the second hardest hit ball by an Astros player.

Bregman's homer off a fastball was significant because he has been trying to drive more fastballs -- he has done a lot of his damage on offspeed pitches this year.

“He hit it far and far,” Hinch said. “It was good for him to get some success. He also got a base hit to right which he’ll like. Direction is important for him. He’s been pulling off a little bit too much and missing some fastballs to hit. It’s nice to see him get rewarded for the work.”

Verlander is tough when pitching with a lead and he was able to go into “energy conservation mode” as Houston pulled away. The ace right-hander tied his season high with seven innings pitched.

“I had a decently high pitch count after three innings, up around 50 or so,” he said. “ Knew if I wanted to go seven innings or more I had to be a little more efficient in the pitch count, and these boys allowed me to do that with the amount of runs they scored.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.