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Houston 'pen brilliant in picking up McCullers

MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- It was bound to happen eventually, and when it did, the Astros' bullpen answered the call.

Starter Lance McCullers Jr., in his first start since being named American League Pitcher of the Month for May, wasn't his usual lockdown self in Saturday's 6-5 win over the Rangers. He went 4 1/3 innings and gave up six hits, four runs -- three earned -- and walked a pair while striking out eight. He left with the Astros leading, 5-4, and the Houston bullpen was tasked with going longer than it might have been accustomed to, especially with such starters as McCullers and Dallas Keuchel being lights out so far this season.

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ARLINGTON -- It was bound to happen eventually, and when it did, the Astros' bullpen answered the call.

Starter Lance McCullers Jr., in his first start since being named American League Pitcher of the Month for May, wasn't his usual lockdown self in Saturday's 6-5 win over the Rangers. He went 4 1/3 innings and gave up six hits, four runs -- three earned -- and walked a pair while striking out eight. He left with the Astros leading, 5-4, and the Houston bullpen was tasked with going longer than it might have been accustomed to, especially with such starters as McCullers and Dallas Keuchel being lights out so far this season.

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But five relievers combined to allow just one run over 4 2/3 innings, and the Astros held off the Rangers in their closest game since they beat the Tigers by a run on May 25.

"When we're fresh, we have different ways to win games," said manager A.J. Hinch. "That bullpen can be matched up, it can absorb a lot of innings. It can also take a few days off if the starters want to go a little deeper in the game. It's a pretty dynamic group of pitchers."

Chris Devenski threw 1 2/3 innings and struck out three while allowing a single hit. Luke Gregerson threw to three batters in the seventh: He gave up a single to Elvis Andrus, then struck out Nomar Mazara. Gregerson's balk allowed Andrus to advance, then Adrian Beltre walked, giving the Rangers two men on with one out.

Hinch put in Will Harris, and Harris slammed the door on any potential rally. He punched out Rougned Odor and Jonathan Lucroy, both on wicked curveballs that dropped out of the zone, inducing weak swings from both batters.

Video: HOU@TEX: Harris fans Lucroy to end the 7th inning

James Hoyt pitched a scoreless eighth, and Ken Giles worked around an RBI single from Beltre to shut the door on Texas and seal the win.

Video: HOU@TEX: Giles strikes out Odor to secure 15th save

"Yeah, this game's hard," Harris said. "You can't expect starters to pitch you deep into every single game. Lance battled out there, ran into some trouble in the fifth inning, and we have a quality bullpen that was able to keep the lead the rest of the game. That's our job."

Houston's pitching staff combined to strike out 18 on Saturday to clinch the series and improve to 5-1 against Texas this season.

"It's hard to put that many hitters away in one game, especially that many [pitchers], too," Hinch said. "You will run into some starters that will roll off eight, 10, 12, 15 [strikeouts] -- around this league, that can happen. But to have so many guys come in and strike out so many of their hitters, it means our bullpen was very elite tonight."

Sam Butler is a reporter for MLB.com based in Texas.

Houston Astros