HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander has been brilliant since joining the Astros, and he continued his stellar form Friday in Houston's 3-0 win over the division-rival Angels at Minute Maid Park.
Acquired from the Tigers in a blockbuster Aug. 31 trade, the 34-year-old power right-hander has dominated with the Astros, going 4-0 with a 0.64 ERA in four starts. In Friday's series opener, Verlander shut out the Angels over seven strong innings while allowing just one hit and striking out six. He has allowed just five hits in his last three starts (22 innings).
Verlander helped the Astros pull within 1 1/2 games of the Indians for the American League's best record.
"He put up another excellent start," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's remarkable to watch him compete, especially when he has this kind of confidence."
For the first six innings, Verlander was matched by Angels ace Garrett Richards, who also allowed just one hit. But with Richards having recently come off the 60-day disabled list following a biceps injury, Angels manager Mike Scioscia removed him from the game after just 85 pitches.
In contrast, Verlander was able to throw up another scoreless frame in the seventh. And when Yuli Gurriel connected on a three-run home run in the bottom half of the inning -- off reliever Yusmeiro Petit, rather than Richards -- that put the Astros' newfound ace in position for his fourth win in as many starts.
"You're out there grinding, giving it everything you've got," Verlander said. "And then for your teammate to hit a big homer, not only put the team ahead, but give you the opportunity to win a ballgame -- for all reasons, those are great moments, so of course I was smiling big."
In two starts vs. Los Angeles, Verlander has thrown 15 scoreless innings while striking out 15 and surrendering just two hits. On both occasions, his only blemish came on the game's first batter.
On Friday, Verlander used a changeup significantly more than in his prior Houston appearances, and it may have played a role in giving the Angels a different look relative to his Sept. 12 start.
"His changeup tonight was really good, and he had abandoned that for the past couple months," Hinch said. "That was a priority from him when he got over here. It's been an emphasis for him on again, off again. He's got such a powerful fastball and good breaking ball that you can easily ditch the changeup.
"It's a work in progress for him to give the hitters something different to deal with. And if he gets that going, watch out."
Verlander credited Astros pitching coach Brent Strom with helping him make mechanical adjustments.
"I've been working on it since I got here," Verlander said of the changeup. "Strom and I, we've been working hard at it. It's been a goal of mine all year, but I just haven't really developed it. Sometimes some new or different insight can help. Strom had some good advice for me, and it seems like it's been helping. Tonight I think it was the best it's been, so it was a good sign."
Hinch, who said he continues to get to know Verlander better with each start, raved about his pitcher's willingness to still be coached, even as a 34-year-old veteran.
"There's a certain stubbornness that comes with every great pitcher," Hinch said. "You don't have success in this league for 13 years without having a certain stubbornness. But he's a continuous learner, trying to get better, trying to learn or tweak something.
"He's very much a team-oriented-type pitcher who wants to be engaging with his teammates, coaches and me. I don't know that I'm surprised by that, so much as I am happy that he has that gene set to still want to get better at his age level and success level."
With the start of the postseason less than two weeks away, Verlander is a virtual lock to start either Game 1 or Game 2 of the AL Division Series -- and his focus is already there.
"It's definitely exciting playing for these guys and knowing the postseason is right around the corner," Verlander said. "It's nice to get wins and it's nice to pitch well. But I think we're all getting ready for the next level."