ARLINGTON -- Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, who threw 24 consecutive curveballs to close out Game 7 of last year's American League Championship Series, had his bender working again Saturday in a 9-3 win over the Rangers, allowing him to punch out 10 batters in 5 1/3 innings.
McCullers, making his first start of the regular season, allowed four hits and two runs, including a homer to Elvis Andrus in the third inning, and fell one strikeout short of his career high from his rookie season in 2015. It was his first career win against the Rangers.
"I want nothing more than to take the ball 33 times for this club," said McCullers, whose career high for starts is 22 in '15 and '17. "That was my main goal coming into the season, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that goal a reality. I would like to be able to take the ball most times and feel good and feel like I'm on my A game. I think everything else will fall in place."
McCullers threw 51 curveballs, getting 12 swinging strikes, and 30 fastballs and finished Saturday at 91 pitches. He also mixed in 10 changeups, but it was his biting curveball that had the Rangers flailing.
"In the second, I got a little breaking ball heavy," he said. "[But later] I mixed it around and worked all my stuff. I worked inside-outside with my fastball, threw changeups when I needed them and the curveball was good, too. I felt good with my pitch usage today and look to continue to build on my changeups today. I threw some really good ones when I threw it right."
McCullers allowed only a walk the first time through the Texas batting order, striking out four, before Andrus turned on a hanging curve and socked it over the center-field wall for a solo homer in the third. In the fourth, McCullers took a Shin-Soo Choo grounder off the ankle and was knocked to the ground but stayed in the game and came back to strike out the side in the fifth.
"I got lucky," McCullers said. "It hit me on my little muscle between my shin and my ankle."
After giving up an infield hit to Andrus to start the sixth, McCullers struck out Joey Gallo for his 10th punchout. Astros manager AJ Hinch pulled him after an RBI double by Adrian Beltre. Will Harris got the final two outs of the inning, preserving the Astros' 6-2 lead.
"What I've seen from Lance in Spring Training is he's nasty and he's filthy," teammate Carlos Correa said. "I honestly believe that if he stays healthy for a whole year he can be in the conversation for the Cy Young Award."