ST. PETERSBURG -- The shortest start of Justin Verlander's time with the Astros spelled trouble for a Houston team that has found it difficult to score runs at Tropicana Field.
Verlander gave up a season-high five runs in five innings Saturday afternoon, and the only offense the Astros could manage for the second game in a row was a two-run homer by red-hot Alex Bregman in a 5-2 loss to the Rays. Houston lost consecutive games for the first time since June 2-5.
"From the very beginning of the game, [Verlander] was having to work pretty hard," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "And then he got a little bit better. He made a couple of adjustments and really finished quite strong. We didn't do enough, really anything, for him until late in the game to create any sort of momentum back towards us to make it a game again."
The Astros have scored only five runs in the first three games of the series, and they've all come on home runs. Jake Marisnick hit a solo homer in Thursday's 1-0 win. Houston has averaged 2.2 runs per game in 22 games all-time at Tropicana Field.
"I hate the results of this ballpark, if you look back at what we've done," Hinch said. "Those are facts. It is what it is. We have another game tomorrow and we need to figure it out."
The Rays scored three times in the first inning against Verlander (9-4) after loading the bases with no outs, including a two-run double by Wilson Ramos. Tampa Bay loaded the bases again in the second, this time with two outs, and Ramos added a two-run single for a 5-0 lead.
"I gave up three hard-hit balls all to the same guy, and the rest of them nobody hit hard," Verlander said.
Verlander suffered from some bad luck, though. He hit Kevin Kiermaier with a 1-1 curveball to begin the first inning, ahead of consecutive singles to load the bases. In the second, Kiermaier and Matt Duffy reached on infield hits and eventually scored on Ramos' single.
"I wasn't sharp, but also definitely didn't have luck on my side," Verlander said. "I load the bases for their hottest hitter. Overall, I made an adjustment in the third inning that was good, but it was too little, too late. It really gave me something to build on moving forward. In games like this, you have to focus on the positives."
Bregman clubbed a two-run homer in the sixth off Vidal Nuno to score George Springer, who reached on the first error of the season by Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria. It was the fifth homer in the past six games for Bregman, who tied Evan Gattis' club record with 30 RBIs this June.
"He swings at good pitches and even if he chases, it's in areas he has some strength in and he's just missing," Hinch said. "Obviously, he's seeing the ball well, he's hitting pitches and doing damage -- all the things you want out of a hitter when he gets pitches to hit."
The Astros have hit a home run in a club-record 21 consecutive road games.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Ramos had the three hardest-hit balls of the game, according to Statcast™. His double had an exit velocity of 107.2 mph, his RBI single was 104.8 mph and he grounded out to Jose Altuve in the fourth on a ball that was 106.3 mph.
HE SAID IT
"I was mad that I felt like I swung the bat terribly my first two at-bats, and my first at-bat kind of put me in take mode my second at-bat, which was stupid. I think that you've just got to keep going, keep chugging along, keep pushing." -- Bregman, who popped out twice before hitting his homer in the sixth
The Astros wrap up their four-game series at Tropicana Field by sending Charlie Morton (10-1, 2.54 ERA) to the mound at 12:10 p.m. CT on Sunday. Since joining the Astros last season, Morton is 24-8 with a 3.19 ERA in 41 regular-season starts. Lefty Blake Snell (10-4, 2.31 ERA) will start for Tampa Bay.