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Astros' division lead dips with loss to Angels

Valdez delivers 5-plus strong frames, but bats struggle
Special to MLB.com

HOUSTON -- The Astros' sudden hitting woes at home continued in a 3-0 loss to the Angels on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, punctuated by an eighth inning in which Houston didn't score despite putting two runners in scoring position with none out before loading the bases.

After taking a series from the second-place A's earlier in the week, the American League West-leading Astros have now lost the first two in this four-game set with the Angels -- scoring just two combined runs. Houston's division lead is down to 1 1/2 games following Oakland's 7-5 win over Seattle on Friday.

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HOUSTON -- The Astros' sudden hitting woes at home continued in a 3-0 loss to the Angels on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, punctuated by an eighth inning in which Houston didn't score despite putting two runners in scoring position with none out before loading the bases.

After taking a series from the second-place A's earlier in the week, the American League West-leading Astros have now lost the first two in this four-game set with the Angels -- scoring just two combined runs. Houston's division lead is down to 1 1/2 games following Oakland's 7-5 win over Seattle on Friday.

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"The eighth inning was the big inning," manager AJ Hinch said. "We had opportunities in the seventh, eighth and ninth with the leadoff runner on. Their guy won the at-bats."

The Astros, now 35-32 at home and 47-21 on the road this season, didn't score despite having a leadoff runner in five innings.

Video: LAA@HOU: Hinch on offensive struggles, ejection

Houston, which fell behind in a three-run sixth capped by Andrelton Simmons' two-run homer off reliever Collin McHugh, seemed poised to rally in the eighth with a leadoff single from Josh Reddick and a pinch-hit double by Tony Kemp off Angels reliever Ty Buttrey. After George Springer struck out swinging on a 97-mph fastball up in the zone on a 3-2 count, Alex Bregman walked to load the bases with only one out.

But Jose Altuve struck out on an 84-mph slider in the dirt, and Carlos Correa popped up to first in foul territory on another power fastball from Buttrey.

"Altuve got a little bit anxious and swung out of the zone," Hinch said. "Correa had a really good and long at-bat, fouling off pitches, but he just got beat on a 3-2 fastball."

He's got a good fastball, and a pretty good curveball," Kemp said of Buttrey. "He kept some hitters off-balance and made some tough pitches in some tough situations, and got out of it."

Astros starter Framber Valdez allowed just two hits in five-plus innings, striking out three but also walking three. His third walk proved costly, allowing leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun to reach with none out in the sixth in a scoreless game. McHugh then entered, but he struggled with his control throughout the frame, starting with an errant pickoff attempt that advanced Calhoun to second.

A sacrifice fly from Mike Trout brought in the first run, and two batters later, Simmons hit a line-drive home run into the left-field Crawford Boxes. He is hitting .600 (9-for-15) with three homers and 10 RBIs in four games this season at Minute Maid Park.

"He hung a breaking ball," Hinch said of the pitch to Simmons. "Simmons has been tough on us. Two nights in a row where we've made a mistake to him, and he's capitalized with changing the score."

Because of the walk, the first run was charged to Valdez. That gave the 24-year-old lefty the first loss of his young Major League career, dropping him to 2-1 with a 1.26 ERA.

Video: LAA@HOU: Valdez starts a 1-4-3 double play in the 3rd

Things happen in the game, things that you can't control," Valdez said through an interpreter. "What I try to work on hard is my mentality, so that whatever happened before, I just let that go and work on what's in front of me. I feel confident."

He was really good again," Hinch said. "His ball moves both directions. He's got a good breaking ball, he's got great poise. He's shown very well that he's pretty calm in the moment, he's got really good stuff, and he's got something to reach back to when he wants some extra velocity. Pretty impressive."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
In a scoreless game, Martin Maldonado and Springer hit line-drive singles off Angels starter Jaime Barria with one out in the third inning. That put the potential go-ahead run on third base with only one out for the heart of Houston's order. But both runners were stranded after Bregman popped out to foul territory and Altuve flied out to left. That inning was the only significant threat against Barria, who pitched six shutout innings while allowing just three hits and striking out four.

Video: LAA@HOU: Barria gets Altuve to flyout, stranding 2

HINCH EJECTED
The Altuve at-bat in the third proved controversial, with the first pitch ruled a strike by home-plate umpire Eric Cooper despite appearing to be beneath the zone. Altuve lined out to left on the next pitch before entering into a discussion with Cooper, prompting a frustrated Hinch to intervene. That ultimately led to the manager's ejection between innings.

Video: LAA@HOU: Hinch gets ejected after a heated exchange

"Jose is one of the best, honestly in the league, in terms of how he respects umpires," Hinch said. "So in between innings, he starts to talk to Cooper about the fact that he missed [a call]. Twice. As he started to walk toward Altuve and escalate the argument, I took exception to that. In between innings like that, the simplest thing to do is walk away. I said something from the dugout, he turned his attention to me, and then kicked me out of the game. I'm defending Altuve every inch of the way."

SOUND SMART
Bregman had his 11-game hitting streak snapped on Friday, but his eighth-inning walk extended his on-base streak to 28 games -- the longest active streak in the Majors. Bregman has reached safely in 88 of his last 90 games.

Video: LAA@HOU: Bregman walks to extend on-base streak to 28

HE SAID IT
"I think mentally for the whole team, it's been a grind for August. Tomorrow, when we wake up and it says September on our phones, I think that it'll be a little bit of a refreshing moment just to have a new month and a fresh start to the end of the [regular] season. I think that's going to be good for our team." -- Kemp, on an uneven 14-12 month for Houston that included several significant injuries and a 3-8 mark at home

UP NEXT
Right-hander Josh James will make the start in his Major League debut at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday against the Angels at Minute Maid Park. James, ranked as the Astros' No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, posted a 3.40 ERA in 92 2/3 innings this year with Triple-A Fresno. Righty Felix Pena (1-4, 4.52 ERA) will start for the Halos.

Ben DuBose is a contributor to MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Framber Valdez