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McCullers' gem gives Astros series win vs. Tribe

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Lance McCullers Jr.s first nine starts were a bit of a rollercoaster. Some went shorter than preferred. Another went seven scoreless innings. There was a 3 2/3-inning stain on April 11, creating a belief that McCullers had become vulnerable following a 2017 All-Star campaign. On Sunday night against the Indians, McCullers turned in his best outing of the season.

The Astros right-hander went heavy with his two-seam fastball, kept his used-to-be rare changeup in his weapon wheel for another start and used his world-class curveball to buckle Indians batters as he took a perfect game into the sixth inning while leading the Astros to a 3-1 win in the series finale at Minute Maid Park.

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HOUSTON -- Lance McCullers Jr.s first nine starts were a bit of a rollercoaster. Some went shorter than preferred. Another went seven scoreless innings. There was a 3 2/3-inning stain on April 11, creating a belief that McCullers had become vulnerable following a 2017 All-Star campaign. On Sunday night against the Indians, McCullers turned in his best outing of the season.

The Astros right-hander went heavy with his two-seam fastball, kept his used-to-be rare changeup in his weapon wheel for another start and used his world-class curveball to buckle Indians batters as he took a perfect game into the sixth inning while leading the Astros to a 3-1 win in the series finale at Minute Maid Park.

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"Being able to feel confident with the heater and the changeup, the curveball came along," McCullers said. "And I was able to put forth a good effort."

"He's got some of the best stuff in baseball," said catcher Brian McCann. "When he's filling up the strike zone, he's tough to hit."

Jason Kipnis led off the sixth with a single to give the Tribe its first baserunner, but McCullers set down the next three hitters to preserve the shutout through seven.

Video: CLE@HOU: Kipnis singles in 6th for Indians' 1st hit

McCullers (6-2), who had the Astros rotation's highest ERA entering Sunday, lowered his mark to 3.20, below Dallas Keuchel's 3.43. McCullers threw 39 curveballs, according to Statcast™, which is the most he's thrown while struggling to find consistency with what has long been his best pitch.

"Tonight, it was great" McCann said of McCullers' knuckle curve. "Maybe he's been feeling for it, but at the same time, he's been throwing his changeup great and his fastball great. So when he's got all three going, he's as good as they come."

The Indians threatened again in the seventh after McCullers walked Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso with two out, but McCullers got Melky Cabrera on a lineout to end his outing at 96 pitches.

The Astros' bats had almost as much trouble against Tribe starter Carlos Carrasco, scattering six hits over six scoreless innings, but McCann broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the seventh.

"You just hope to get something over the plate at some point over the course of the night," McCann said. "And I did, and I was able to put a good swing on it."

Video: CLE@HOU: McCann opens the scoring with a two-run jack

Josh Reddick added an RBI double in the eighth, and Ken Giles got a pair of groundouts to seal the win after the Tribe used Michael Brantley's leadoff double vs. Chris Devenski to get on the scoreboard in the ninth.

"I thought he was exceptional, obviously," Astros manager AJ Hinch said of McCullers. "With all of his pitches, I think that was the best breaking ball he's had in a number of starts."

SOUND SMART
McCullers became the second pitcher this season to go seven-plus innings while allowing one hit or fewer in multiple starts, joining Arizona's Patrick Corbin. McCullers completed seven innings and allowed one hit in Seattle on April 17.

On Sunday, McCann became the 30th player in Major League history to catch 1,500 games.

Video: CLE@HOU: Hinch on McCullers Jr.'s excellent start

UP NEXT
After an off-day on Monday, the Astros will host the Giants at 7:10 p.m. CT on Tuesday. Fireballing righty Gerrit Cole will make his 10th start for Houston, against San Francisco lefty Andrew Suarez. Cole ranks second in the American League with a 1.75 ERA, trailing teammate Justin Verlander (1.05). He leads the AL with 93 strikeouts.

Christian Boutwell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Houston.

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr., Brian McCann