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Just a power pitcher? Verlander has finesse, too

Righty K's 11 vs. Oakland to keep Astros starters rolling
@brianmctaggart
July 24, 2019

HOUSTON -- Following a pair of gems by Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in the first two games of the series against the A’s, ace Justin Verlander certainly wasn’t about to be upstaged Wednesday afternoon. And he had to get creative to do it. Verlander kept the Astros’ run of

HOUSTON -- Following a pair of gems by Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in the first two games of the series against the A’s, ace Justin Verlander certainly wasn’t about to be upstaged Wednesday afternoon. And he had to get creative to do it.

Verlander kept the Astros’ run of strong starting pitching going by relying heavily on his breaking pitches, allowing no earned runs and six hits while striking out 11 batters in six innings in Houston’s 4-2 win over the A’s at Minute Maid Park. George Springer and José Altuve cranked two-run home runs to lead the Astros to their 18th win in the last 26 games.

Box score

“I mixed them up quite a bit,” Verlander said. “Most of the time when I’m out there, I try to let the batter dictate the path I’m going to go with my pitch selection and trust my instincts. I threw quite a bit of offspeed today. They showed that they were being aggressive. They seemed aggressive throughout the game.”

Verlander (13-4) threw 62 of his 101 pitches for strikes, mixing in more breaking pitches -- 34 sliders and 15 curveballs -- than he did fastballs (45). That was the product of a tough Oakland lineup.

“I just like how he adjusted to a little different style than just the high fastball, predictable, albeit good version of himself,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “I applaud him for the day. We didn’t start the game very clean, obviously. He gave up [an unearned] run early and fell behind and once he got the lead he was pretty locked in. They made him work the last couple of innings, otherwise he lasts a little longer.”

Verlander won his third consecutive start and posted his 60th career double-digit strikeout game, five of which have come this year. Astros starters have gone 7-0 with a 1.58 ERA in their last eight starts, allowing two or fewer runs in each of those eight games.

“One of the calling cards we’ve had over the last few years has been always putting up a pretty good start,” Hinch said. “We rarely have the blowup start and we did a few times, which does not make it our norm. It just kind of made it how we entered the second half of the season with a couple of bad starts.”

Springer hit a two-run homer to left field off Chris Bassitt in the third inning, and Altuve hit a two-run homer to straightaway center field in the fifth inning for a 4-1 lead. The Astros (66-38) are the first team in the American League to reach 66 wins.

“It was special because it was two runs and the game was on the line, and we have Justin on the mound and we all know everything we can give him. He’s going to take advantage and he proved it tonight,” Altuve said of his 15th homer of the season. “He’s the best pitcher in the big leagues and it’s really fun to play behind him.”

Bassitt (7-5) struck out the first five batters of the game before the Astros finally timed him up and got to him in the third inning. He was more erratic the second time through the order and the Astros made him pay for his mistakes.

“I tried to beat Springer to the spot; he beat me to the spot,” Bassitt said. “The Altuve pitch -- it was a mistake. I tried to throw a get-me-over cutter and that's just asinine to his approach where he's extremely aggressive. That was a little bit of a lapse of judgment. Overall, two pitches.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.