ST. PETERSBURG -- It was a smashing 2019 debut for the Astros, who had George Springer, Michael Brantley and Jose Altuve provide the offensive clout with homers and ace Justin Verlander outpitched reigning American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell in a 5-1 Opening Day win over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Thursday.
Here are three takeaways from the Astros’ seventh consecutive Opening Day victory -- the longest active streak in the Major Leagues:
Springer sets the tone again
Springer clubbed a homer on Opening Day for the third year in a row when he followed walks to Robinson Chirinos and Jake Marisnick by taking Snell deep for a three-run blast. Springer’s homer, which traveled 427 feet to straightaway center field according to Statcast, gave the Astros a 3-1 lead.
“That as good a job against him as you can do and not swing at his pitches,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “[Snell has] really good secondary pitches and a good fastball. We made him work, hunted some fastballs. George got the big breaking ball hit to dead-center, but that was after Jake and Chirinos had really good at-bats drawing a couple walks.”
It marked the fifth time in Astros history they’ve hit at least three homers on Opening Day (1962, 1978, 1995 and 2003). Springer joked that teammate Josh Reddick jokingly told him he blew it when he didn’t homer in his first at-bat.
“It’s all good,” Springer said. “I’m just happy to help the team right there.”
Verlander rights the ship
After finishing second to Snell in the AL Cy Young voting last year, Verlander overcame a leadoff homer to Austin Meadows and a wild start to the second inning to get locked in. He threw seven innings, allowing one run and three hits while striking out nine.
“I gave up the leadoff homer and just kind of told myself, ‘I’ve been here before,’” Verlander said. “You just hit the reset button real quick. I don’t think something you want to do is lead off the year with a homer. It’s been worse for me. I’ve done it before, like I said. This was just ‘Screw it,’ turn the page and try to find it. … I just kind of flicked the switch and something clicked with my mechanics.”
Verlander, who signed a two-year, $66-million contract extension on Sunday, continues to be pleased by his refined changeup, which he threw 11 times and got five swings and misses.
“It was nice to see all the work that went to getting that pitch back and having it my repertoire,” he said. “I didn’t expect to need it as much as I did today, but I saw some good results with it, saw some good swings on it and got some easy outs with it.”
Welcome to the party
Brantley, the Astros’ biggest free-agent addition of the offseason, made his mark by going 2-for-4 with a homer and a single in his first game with Houston. Brantley, the only lefty in the lineup against Snell, turned on a 93-mph inside fastball and launched it 404 feet down the right-field line.
“I was just trying to be aggressive early and put a good swing on it,” Brantley said.
The addition of Brantley gives the Astros' lineup a much-needed power presence from the left side of the plate. Hinch is able to plug the veteran into the top half of his lineup, which features All-Star right-handers Altuve, Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.
“Brantley has been one of the most consistent hitters in the big leagues,” Hinch said. “Left on left, right on left. I don’t care what they throw up there to him, he usually puts up a pretty good at-bat."