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McCullers drops duel with Angels' Heaney

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

ANAHEIM -- Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. hasn't had his most effective curveball in his last few outings, though he walked away from Monday's 2-1 loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium encouraged by how his signature pitch worked as the game progressed.

McCullers, whose curveball is one of the best pitches in baseball when it's at its best, pitched well enough to win in the series opener. The right-hander allowed two runs and four hits in six innings, only to see his personal four-game winning streak snapped as the Astros were stymied by Angels lefty Andrew Heaney.

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ANAHEIM -- Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. hasn't had his most effective curveball in his last few outings, though he walked away from Monday's 2-1 loss to the Angels at Angel Stadium encouraged by how his signature pitch worked as the game progressed.

McCullers, whose curveball is one of the best pitches in baseball when it's at its best, pitched well enough to win in the series opener. The right-hander allowed two runs and four hits in six innings, only to see his personal four-game winning streak snapped as the Astros were stymied by Angels lefty Andrew Heaney.

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McCullers threw a career-high 27 changeups from among his 98 pitches and only 21 curves.

"That's how it's been so far this year -- haven't hit my stride and been grinding," McCullers said. "It's frustrating to feel like my other two pitches [fastball and changeup] are so good and the pitch I need and rely on a lot of times is not there, but it started showing up towards the end of the game."

Astros manager AJ Hinch said part of the heavy changeup usage was a game plan against the Angels and part of it was because of McCullers' struggle with the curve.

"He pitched well enough to win," Hinch said.

Video: HOU@LAA: Stassi plates Reddick on a single to center

Heaney, facing the Astros for the first time since 2015, tied a career high with 10 strikeouts over a career-high eight innings, allowing one run -- on a third-inning single by catcher Max Stassi. Leadoff doubles by Josh Reddick in the third and Evan Gattis in the fifth accounted for the Astros' only runners in scoring position against the 26-year-old lefty.

"He was moving the ball around -- in, out, up, down," said Astros outfielder George Springer. "He was commanding his offspeed pitches and controlled the zone."

Former Astros infielder Luis Valbuena hit an RBI single in the second on the pitch after Andrelton Simmons stole second base, and a pair of walks by McCullers in the sixth proved costly when Justin Upton broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI single to left, scoring Mike Trout from second.

Video: HOU@LAA: Upton drives in Maldonado on single to left

"As frustrating as it is not to have my best curveball, it's forced me to develop a plus-plus change," McCullers said. "That's going to be good moving forward and going to be good in my career. I've got to keep with it and stay positive. Like I said, it felt like the last couple of innings it started to show up, [getting] swings and misses. I was used to seeing a couple of strikeouts, so that was good to see."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Springer, who returned to the lineup Monday after missing the previous two games with a bruised left elbow, led off the ninth with a single against reliever Justin Anderson. Alex Bregman followed with a fly ball to right field that Kole Calhoun caught reaching into the stands in foul territory. Calhoun was able to recover and throw out a tagging Springer at second base for a key double play.

"Hats off to him," Springer said. "That's a good play. He went into the stands and made a heck of a throw after that. That's just a situation there where I've got to go. I have to try to get to second base because the guy on the mound's been tough. Hats off to him. He made a good play."

Said Hinch: "It's not just a good play by Calhoun, it's a great play. He's diving into the stands or at least leaning into the stands, and he was able to clear himself from the fence enough to make a full throw, which is probably why he leads the league in assists in the outfield. He had to make a perfect throw to get him out, and he did."

Video: HOU@LAA: Calhoun makes leaping grab, nabs Springer

SOUND SMART
Jose Altuve snapped an 0-for-16 funk with a ninth-inning single. Marwin Gonzalez is in an 0-for-17 slump.

Video: HOU@LAA: Altuve turns double play despite hard slide

HE SAID IT
"It's positive that we're playing good D, we're throwing the ball well -- starters and bullpen -- and guys are coming every day to the park trying to get better and trying to make the adjustments. When they turn it on, they're going to be scary." -- McCullers

UP NEXT
Gerrit Cole -- who was born in Newport Beach, Calif., raised in Orange County and attended UCLA -- will make only his second career start at Angel Stadium on Tuesday at 9:07 p.m. CT. Cole's only other appearance in Anaheim came in his third big league start, on June 21, 2013, while he was with the Pirates. The Angels will counter with rookie Jaime Barria.

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

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr., George Springer