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Familiar with Yu, Astros still expect unexpected

Houston hitters know Game 3 starter from days in Texas, but righty has grown since
MLB.com @feinsand

HOUSTON -- When George Springer steps into the batter's box tonight, he'll see a familiar face standing 60 feet, six inches away.

And while nobody relishes the opportunity to face Yu Darvish, the Astros will have an understanding of what to expect from the former Ranger and current Dodgers right-hander.

HOUSTON -- When George Springer steps into the batter's box tonight, he'll see a familiar face standing 60 feet, six inches away.

And while nobody relishes the opportunity to face Yu Darvish, the Astros will have an understanding of what to expect from the former Ranger and current Dodgers right-hander.

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"It always helps when you've faced guys," Astros catcher Brian McCann said. "The more times you face somebody, the better it is. It all comes down to executing. We'll be ready to go."

Following their thrilling Game 2 win in the World Series presented by YouTube TV, the Astros will try to carry that momentum into the first of three straight home games as Lance McCullers Jr. takes on Darvish in Game 3.

"I think the guys in this room are familiar with him and his stuff," third baseman Alex Bregman said. "We're going to take the fight to him."

The Astros faced Darvish twice in the span of 10 days during the regular season, beating him in Arlington on June 2 before losing to him at Minute Maid Park on June 12.

In the first meeting, Darvish allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk over five innings, all three runs coming on a Carlos Correa home run. Darvish struck out eight batters, an impressive feat against an offense that averaged fewer than seven strikeouts per nine innings over the course of the season.

Ten days later, Darvish fanned only four Astros over seven innings, though he held Houston to a run on one hit and three walks en route to a victory.

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"The ball explodes out of his hand," McCann said. "He's got a great slider, a good split. He's just good."

Darvish is 5-5 with a 3.44 ERA in 14 career starts against the Astros during his five seasons in the Majors, all of them coming during his days with the Rangers. He's pitched exceptionally well at Minute Maid Park, going 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA.

After struggling during his first month with the Dodgers, Darvish has taken his game to the next level in recent weeks. He closed the regular season with a 0.47 ERA in his final three starts, allowing nine hits and one walk while striking out 21 batters in 19 1/3 innings.

He's won both of his postseason starts, pitching to a 1.59 ERA while striking out 14 batters against only one walk against the D-backs in the National League Division Series and in the NL Championship Series vs. the Cubs, making both starts away from Dodger Stadium.

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A mechanical adjustment to Darvish's arm angle has been responsible for his sudden turnaround, so while the Astros have recent experience against him to lean on as they prepare for Game 3, they know the pitcher they'll face tonight will be a slightly different version than the one they saw four months ago.

"There's more unpredictability around game plans and approaches in the postseason than ever," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "You can go in saying this is how he's thrown you in the past, and he can pitch you completely different. We saw that with [Masahiro] Tanaka in New York.

"For us, we need to evaluate what our game plan is going to be. It's going to be very simple: We want to get a pitch to hit. He's got 15 pitches you have to deal with, from different angles, and he can reach back and have velocity. Tomorrow is going to be a big start for him, I know he'll be at his best."

Like most pitchers, Hinch said, if the Astros can get Darvish to leave a pitch or two in the strike zone, they should be able to inflict the type of damage they did for most of the season, leading the Majors in runs scored.

"We've done damage to every good pitcher in the strike zone; when we expand, it's tough," Hinch said. "So for us having familiarity will help a little bit, but when you get to Game 3 of the World Series, the competition will be at a unique level. We'll see how he adjusts or [how] we adjust."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

Houston Astros