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Verlander bit by homer bug in loss to Angels

Veteran All-Star gives up three taters; Brantley goes 4-for-4
July 6, 2019

HOUSTON -- An All-Star for the eighth time, Justin Verlander is in the conversation for being named the American League starting pitcher at the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard next week. But he has been susceptible to the long ball, giving up 26 this season and allowing homers in all

HOUSTON -- An All-Star for the eighth time, Justin Verlander is in the conversation for being named the American League starting pitcher at the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard next week.

But he has been susceptible to the long ball, giving up 26 this season and allowing homers in all but two of his 19 starts. He yielded three more on Friday.

Verlander gave up home runs to Kole Calhoun and Shohei Ohtani as part of the Angels’ three-run third inning. Andrelton Simmons led off the sixth with a homer.

“Three pitches. I've got to do a better job of keeping the ball in the yard,” Verlander said. “It’s been a common theme all year, really the last four or five starts. I've got to figure out a way to combat this thing.”

Despite Michael Brantley’s 4-for-4 night, and Yuli Gurriel’s two-run homer in the eighth, the Astros couldn’t overcome the homers and fell, 5-4, to the Angels in the opener of a three-game series at Minute Maid Park, snapping their five-game win streak.

“He’s a fly-ball pitcher, and he lives at the top of the zone,” manager AJ Hinch said of Verlander. “They did a good job of beating him to the spot a couple of times above the zone.

“There’s no secret where he’s going to pitch. They did a good job of having a game plan against him and executed [against] the high fastball.

“We just couldn’t keep them in the ballpark. J.V. was all over the strike zone. He commanded the ball pretty well. You look up and you don’t understand how with that stuff and that command, how the night turned for him.”

Verlander (10-4) located the ball well; only 27 of his 102 pitches were called balls.

On the Calhoun and Ohtani homers, Verlander tried to go in more, but the ball ran a bit.

“They put good swings on them, hit them in the air,” Verlander said. “I located those; the Simmons one, the slider stayed up a little. I had him reaching for it, but he was able to hit it in the air as well. Balls in the air go out.”

For good measure, Mike Trout greeted Hector Rondon with his 26th home run leading off the eighth to give the Angels a 5-2 lead.

Four of the Angels’ nine hits were home runs.

The Astros got a home run from Brantley, who added two doubles and a single, giving him 34 multihit games. Brantley had four of the first five hits for Houston, which managed just six for the game.

Verlander struck out six, increasing his career total to 2,859. He needed two strikeouts on Friday to surpass Hall of Famer Jim Bunning for 18th on the all-time list. In seven innings, he allowed seven hits and four runs with one walk. He enters the All-Star break with a 2.98 ERA, the fourth-lowest first-half ERA of his career.

Verlander was staked to a 1-0 lead in the second on Brantley’s 12th home run. Brantley connected off Felix Pena, who had just entered the game in relief of opener Noe Ramirez. The Angels have used an opener in front of Pena in 12 of his last 13 appearances.

Since being acquired in a 2017 trade with Detroit, Verlander had gotten the better of the Angels, going 7-1 before Friday.

It’s the fourth time this season he has allowed three homers in a game. He did so in his only other start against the Angels, on April 5, but in that one he got the win in Houston’s 10-4 road victory.

The Astros loaded the bases in the sixth but could not cash in. Robinson Chirinos grounded out to third, and the force at second ended the inning with the Angels ahead, 4-2.