HOUSTON -- On a night when a pair of aces traded punches, Justin Verlander stumbled before Cole Hamels, and growing concern about the Astros' struggle to score runs at Minute Maid Park swelled.
With hope of rebounding from his first regular-season loss as an Astro in his last outing, Verlander rolled early in his ninth start of the season, but Houston's bullpen played a key role in keeping the game close. With little offense to help -- the Astros managed just one hit off Hamels and three relievers -- the Astros fell, 1-0, to the Rangers, a club that has had little success against Verlander.
Verlander threw 101 pitches and allowed one earned run on three hits with seven strikeouts in six-plus innings as the Astros fell to .500 (10-10) at home. The Astros have not scored a run in three of their past four home games. The Astros (24-16) are batting just .219 at home.
"It's easy enough to get frustrated, and I think the one thing you try to do is stay positive," Verlander said of the lack of offense. "Do you want to win? Yeah. Do I want to win? Yeah. I feel like I help my team the most when I get a win. The most you can do is just go out there [and] keep your team in ballgames. I think you've got to take a lot of pride in doing that. Runs come and go.
"I've been around long enough where your team goes through ebbs and flows, and sometimes you're the guy that doesn't get a lot of runs and sometimes you're the guy that gets a lot of runs. Unfortunately right now, I've been the guy that doesn't get a lot. Hopefully the next two days we go out and score 10 a game and win the series."
Verlander, who gave up one earned run over 14 innings in two previous starts against Texas this year, left the game with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh after a double by Nomar Mazara and walks to Adrian Beltre and Joey Gallo. Reliever Chris Devenski gave up a sac fly to Jurickson Profar before striking out the final two batters he faced.
"When I faced Adrian with nobody out and a man on second, I pitched him a little bit differently trying to set up a double play with a guy behind him in Gallo, who swings and misses a lot," Verlander said. "Did it work out? No. I ended up walking Gallo, and Devo came in and did an unbelievable job."
Once again, the Astros couldn't help Verlander, who received his second straight loss despite permitting just one earned run in each of his past two starts.
"He definitely pitched well enough to keep us in the game and get a win," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.
The Astros got plenty of baserunners on early against Hamels, but they couldn't move them over. Houston got its first and only hit in the fifth inning off Hamels with a sharp single from Evan Gattis, who moved to second on a groundout, but the Astros' threat fizzled.
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To make matters more concerning, the Astros lost their reliable leadoff hitter to an injury.
George Springer, who has reached base safely in 23 of 27 games dating back to April 13, was drilled in the left elbow by Hamels in the third inning. Springer briefly remained in Friday's game before Jake Marisnick quickly replaced him in the top of the fourth. Springer was diagnosed with a left elbow contusion and is day to day, the Astros announced shortly after the injury. An X-ray of Springer's elbow returned negative, Hinch said.
Verlander joins a small group of Astros pitchers to take a loss while surrendering just one run or fewer in consecutive starts: Scott Feldman (Sept. 24, 2014-April 8, 2015), Erik Bedard (July 20-25, 2013) and Nolan Ryan (July 8-19, 1987).
"You can't let yourself get frustrated as a starting pitcher with run support," Verlander said. "A lot of run support, a little run support -- you've got to go out there and do your job."
The Astros continue a three-game series against the Rangers at 6:10 p.m. CT on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Houston delayed Charlie Morton's eighth start of the season by having Verlander go Friday so he could stay on regular rest. Morton (4-0, 2.16 ERA) is the Astros' only starter without a loss this season. Morton racked up 12 strikeouts on April 14 against the Rangers while allowing six hits and two earned runs over six innings. Texas will counter with Doug Fister.