HOUSTON -- While Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole rack up the strikeouts and the American League Cy Young Award consideration, lefty Dallas Keuchel keeps chugging along as the Astros' most steady starting pitcher in the second half.Keuchel didn't allow an earned run in six innings to win for the eighth
HOUSTON -- While Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole rack up the strikeouts and the American League Cy Young Award consideration, lefty Dallas Keuchel keeps chugging along as the Astros' most steady starting pitcher in the second half.
Keuchel didn't allow an earned run in six innings to win for the eighth time in his past 10 decisions, and Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel slugged home runs to lead the Astros to their third win in a row, 4-1, over the Twins on Monday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros kept a 2 1/2-game lead over the A's atop the AL West standings, with 25 games left on the schedule.
"I thought I was able to make some key pitches in big situations," Keuchel said. "I kind of put myself in a few uncomfortable moments. This team is not a good matchup for me because they take, take, take, and I'm going to try to make the perfect pitch every time. I'd like to make a few earlier and better pitches, but other than that, I felt really good trying to continue this little run."
Keuchel (11-10) improved to 8-2 with a 2.57 ERA in 15 starts since June 16 by holding the Twins to five hits (four singles) and two walks while striking out six batters. It was his 40th career regular-season win at Minute Maid Park, third-most in the ballpark's history.
"The key for Dallas is to maintain his focus, his control of his emotions and continue to execute his pitches," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "When he went back to being Dallas Keuchel, his strengths on strengths, he's going to use his pitches the way they're most effective. He's got better as the season's gone on and is in great physical shape, and that's helped his secondary pitches. The slider was good today and the changeup was really good in a big strikeout situation. When he has those weapons and feels confident and under control and is directed toward the plate, there's a reason he has hardware."
Bregman took Twins starter Kyle Gibson deep in the first inning, giving him three homers in three games, and Gurriel homered in the fourth to push the Houston lead to 4-0. The only run off Keuchel came in the sixth, with the help of a throwing error by Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.
After Gurriel's homer, Gibson (7-12) sent down the final 11 batters he faced. He allowed only four hits, including the two homers.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Already without resting relievers Roberto Osuna, Thomas Pressly and Joe Smith, the Astros had to scramble in the ninth when Hector Rondon was removed from the game after Jake Cave led off the inning with a 109.6-mph line drive that struck Rondon on the right hand.
Will Harris struck out Joe Mauer with runners at first and second before Peacock loaded the bases on a single by John Forsythe. Peacock came back to strike out Polanco and end the game with the bases loaded.
"It wasn't comfortable, except our guys came in and did a great job," Hinch said. "Harris came in, and outside of the walk did a great job. Peacock came in and gave up a single and got the last out of the game. We were down a couple of relievers. I wasn't using Osuna, Pressly, Smith, and good thing we have a really deep bullpen.
Rondon was taken for X-rays, which showed no fracture. Hinch said he doubts Rondon will pitch in the rest of the Twins series, though.
"The good thing is it hit me on the muscle and nothing's broken," Rondon said. "Let's see what it's like tomorrow with the swelling."
Bregman's 72 extra-base hits are the most by an Astros player in a single season since Lance Berkman had 79 in 2008.
• Astros celebrate Bregman HR with curling routine
GONZALEZ EXITS WITH INJURY
Marwin Gonzalez started at second base in place of Jose Altuve but left the game after one inning with right oblique discomfort. Hinch said Gonzalez originally felt the discomfort Sunday night and took some swings in the first inning Monday and felt it again.
"It's too risky right now, this time of year, where if he takes a swing and hurts his oblique or hurts his ribcage or anything that can go wrong, you're threatening the season," Hinch said. "I think he's going to be fine. Again, he's probably a guy who's not going to see the rest of this series."
HE SAID IT
"He's lucky he put his arm up. You look at the replay and he probably saved his face." -- Hinch, on Rondon being struck in the hand by a line drive in the ninth inning
Verlander (13-9, 2.78 ERA) will start Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. CT game against the Twins at Minute Maid Park. Verlander is 4-7 with a 4.50 ERA in his last 13 starts. The Twins will have right-handed reliever Trevor May (3-0, 1.88) open the game. Houston native Kohl Stewart (0-1, 6.61) is likely to serve as the primary pitcher once May departs.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.