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McCullers' 11-K gem gets Astros off the mat

Special to MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Lance McCullers Jr. once again proved too much for the Mariners and, in doing so, helped pull the Astros out of a three-game skid with in a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night at Safeco Field.

Oh, and the Astros finally got a clutch hit when Brian McCann broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning by hitting a two-run homer off Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla after Houston stranded eight runners over five innings against starter Ariel Miranda.

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SEATTLE -- Lance McCullers Jr. once again proved too much for the Mariners and, in doing so, helped pull the Astros out of a three-game skid with in a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night at Safeco Field.

Oh, and the Astros finally got a clutch hit when Brian McCann broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning by hitting a two-run homer off Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla after Houston stranded eight runners over five innings against starter Ariel Miranda.

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But this was about McCullers, who retired 19 of 20 batters after yielding a two-out homer in the first inning to Robinson Cano. McCullers struck out 11 and walked one before relievers Will Harris and Chris Devenski closed out the victory.

Video: HOU@SEA: Devenski gets a double play to earn the save

"[McCullers] was a real pitcher tonight who got outs in different ways," manager AJ Hinch said. "We know he can do it. He does it a lot. It was very encouraging to see him go up against a lineup where you have to create some of your own outs."

It was a strong bounce-back effort after McCullers allowed a career-high eight runs over four innings at Minnesota in his previous start -- and he pointed to his catcher, McCann, as a major factor in the turnaround.

"Mac and I talked a lot this week," McCullers said. "He gave me a lot of encouragement, a lot of motivation to stick to the grind and make the adjustments that I need to make."

The result in McCann's words: "Filthy. … When he's getting that movement with his breaking ball, he's tough to hit. He had total control of what he was doing tonight."

It probably didn't hurt that McCullers (2-1) was facing the Mariners, whom he has beaten for six of his 21 career victories.

"We all know he's a guy that spins the ball pretty good," Cano said. "He's a guy that knows how to pitch and has one of the best curveballs in the game."

Video: HOU@SEA: Cano crushes his first home run of 2018

Even Cano's homer came on a pretty good pitch, an 0-2 curve down and in that was nearly in the dirt.

"That's Robby, man," McCullers said. "I wanted to bury it, and I think if it had been in the dirt, he may have taken it or swung and missed. But that's what makes him so great. He didn't really swing at that ball, and he hit it like 400-some feet."

The Astros wasted strong starts over the two previous games from Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel and appeared poised to stumble again after squandering a bushel of opportunities against Miranda.

That changed in the sixth against Altavilla (1-2) after Evan Gattis led off. McCann followed with his first homer of the year.

"It was a breath of fresh air for us," Hinch said. "We felt like we needed a big hit at some point to just separate ourselves. It's amazing what a two-run lead feels like."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
First of the year: McCann's homer was a no-doubt drive to right on a 98-mph fastball from Altavilla. It was McCann's first homer since his final regular-season at-bat of 2017 -- Sept. 30 against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel.

Video: HOU@SEA: McCann crushes a go-ahead two-run home run

HE SAID IT
"It's fine. X-rays are negative. When it first got hit, it hurt. You just hope for the best, and I got great news. -- McCann, on coming away OK after getting hit in his right hand by a pitch from Wade LeBlanc in the eighth inning

Video: HOU@SEA: McCann hit by pitch on his hand, stays in

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve played in his 1,000th career game and collected his 1,272nd career hit with a single in the third inning. The only foreign-born player with more hits in his first 1,000 games is Ichiro, who had 1,414.

WHAT'S NEXT?
Gerrit Cole, who set an MLB record with 36 strikeouts in his first three starts with a team, will look to continue the strong start to his Astros career when he makes his first appearance at Safeco Field at 9:10 CT on Wednesday night. His only previous outing against Seattle came in 2016, when he gave up one run in a complete-game victory while pitching for the Pirates. The Astros will face Mariners right-hander Mike Leake for the first time since 2013, when he was with the Reds.

Bob Dutton is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle.

Houston Astros, Lance McCullers Jr., Brian McCann