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Verlander dealt loss as Astros' bats fall short

Ace strikes out 11, but Angels break through in 4-run 6th
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- Astros ace Justin Verlander was about as dominant as he could be through five innings Thursday night, striking out 11 batters and allowing only a pair of hits. The Astros' punchless offense left him with little room for error.

The Angels got to Verlander for three runs in a four-run sixth inning, with Andrelton Simmons hitting a three-run double on the first pitch thrown by reliever Will Harris, to send the Astros to a 5-2 defeat in the series opener at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON -- Astros ace Justin Verlander was about as dominant as he could be through five innings Thursday night, striking out 11 batters and allowing only a pair of hits. The Astros' punchless offense left him with little room for error.

The Angels got to Verlander for three runs in a four-run sixth inning, with Andrelton Simmons hitting a three-run double on the first pitch thrown by reliever Will Harris, to send the Astros to a 5-2 defeat in the series opener at Minute Maid Park.

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"I felt like I had good stuff," said Verlander, who was 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his first four starts against the Angels this year. "Unfortunately, I gave up a couple of hits in a row, and those guys were able to capitalize on it."

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The Astros maintained their 2 1/2-game lead over the A's for first place in the American League West after Oakland's 7-1 loss to Seattle on Thursday night.

Verlander (13-9) finished with 5 1/3 innings pitched, allowing three runs and five hits. He struck out the side in the fourth inning and whiffed three more in the fifth, but got into trouble in the sixth with a leadoff double to Kole Calhoun. One-out singles by Mike Trout and Justin Upton put the Angels ahead, 1-0, and Tony Sipp walked Shohei Ohtani to load the bases for Simmons.

Video: LAA@HOU: Simmons drives a bases-clearing double

"When we lost the lead on the Upton at-bat, down 1-0, I decided to go with the matchup with Ohtani," Astros manager AJ Hinch explained on lifting Verlander. "Even though Ohtani had hit a couple of good pitches against J.V. in his short stint, we felt like Sipp was the better matchup at that point in the game."

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Verlander appeared to be upset Hinch was taking him out of the game after his 99-pitch outing.

"I think as a starting pitcher you always want to have the opportunity to stay in," he said. "I felt strong. I would have liked the opportunity, but that's baseball. He's the manager. It's his decision ultimately."

The Astros are averaging 1.8 runs per game while Verlander is on the mound in the nine games he has lost this season. They haven't scored more than three runs for him in any of those losses.

Video: LAA@HOU: Hinch on hitting struggles in the loss

"You can't take it personally," Verlander said. "I know these guys are going out there and giving it everything they've got. We ask a lot of them, so they saved my [butt] sometimes. It is what it is, man. You can't expect runs every game. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the other team."

The Astros had leadoff singles in the first and fourth innings, but both were followed by double plays. Houston has grounded into 132 double plays, which is at least 20 more than any other team in the Major Leagues.

Video: LAA@HOU: Simmons makes a stellar flip for double play

Angels starter Andrew Heaney threw six scoreless innings, allowing five hits, for his first road win since September 2015. He was 0-8 with a 5.92 ERA in his previous 17 road starts, and Angels starters were 0-6 with a 7.34 ERA in their previous 11 games overall.

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"We saw him a couple of days ago and he didn't quite have the velo he did tonight," Hinch said. "Four of the first five innings, we had baserunners and they were erased one way or another, so he was able to escape any baserunners we had and threw a really good game. He won the big at-bat."

Tyler White hit a two-run homer, his 11th of the season, in the ninth inning off Blake Parker to avoid the shutout.

Video: LAA@HOU: White drives a 2-run dinger to left-center

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Heaney battled Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez for 13 pitches during an at-bat in the fourth inning with White at first base and two outs. Gonzalez fouled seven pitches off during the at-bat before finally taking a called third strike on an 80-mph curveball to end the inning.

"[Heaney] battled and battled and landed the back-door breaking ball," Hinch said. "If we win that at-bat -- Marwin had a great at-bat -- you get a little bit of momentum winning those big moments. He was much better this time than last time."

Video: LAA@HOU: Heaney strikes out 6 in scoreless start

SOUND SMART
Verlander's 50 strikeouts in August are the most by an Astros pitcher in the month since Randy Johnson had 61 and Shane Reynolds had 51 in 1998. Verlander's double-digit strikeout game was a career-high ninth in one season and the 51st of his career, which is tied for 17th all-time with Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Jim Bunning.

Video: LAA@HOU: Verlander on outing, being pulled in the 6th

HE SAID IT
"He's not coming out of the lineup. I'm not going to move him. He's a middle-of-the-order bat that's a click away from doing some crazy good things." -- Hinch, on shortstop Carlos Correa, who's hitting .162 (11-for-68) with two extra-base hits since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 10

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Astros won a challenge in the first inning, giving Jose Altuve a double. Altuve was initially called out at second base trying to stretch a single into a double, but the replay showed his foot hit second base before the tag, and he was ruled safe.

Video: LAA@HOU: Altuve beats throw to second after review

UP NEXT
Rookie left-hander Framber Valdez (2-0, 0.96 ERA) will make his second career start (third appearance) when the Astros meet the Angels at 7:10 p.m. CT Friday at Minute Maid Park. In his first start Sunday against Anaheim, he allowed one run and two hits in five innings for his second win. Right-hander Jaime Barria (8-8, 3.67 ERA) will start for the Angels.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander