Minor finishes strong; Rangers' rally falls short

July 20th, 2019

HOUSTON -- If the Rangers were hoping to glean anything from this weekend's series with the Astros regarding whether they'll be buyers or sellers or neither at the Trade Deadline, they'll have to wait another day. Their 4-3 loss to the Astros on Friday night to open another round of the intrastate Lone Star Series at Minute Maid Park didn't move the needle a lot either way.

was one of the team's more attractive trade chips when the game started, and when it was over, nothing had changed. Same goes for the Rangers’ place in the Wild Card race, which will be their best chance to reach the postseason -- they’re 5 1/2 games out of the second spot, territory that doesn’t make them an October favorite but, at the same time, doesn’t eliminate them from the conversation.

Minor did his part to make a case for keeping his team intact beyond July 31, pitching respectably, and at times, dominantly, against one of the toughest lineups in baseball. If this ended up as an unintentional audition for a more stable postseason contender, Minor did nothing to deter clubs from showing continued interest -- even with one dramatically poor inning that ended up being the difference-maker in the loss.

"If it happens, it happens," Minor said of possibly being traded. "It's there, but it's more about staying in the routine and keep on pitching. I see it, you guys [reporters] talk about it. I've got to do my best to kind of keep it external, out of the clubhouse. I'm trying to do a job."

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The only hiccup arrived in the third inning, but it was a loud one. In a four-pitch sequence, Minor yielded consecutive homers to Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, which put the Rangers in a 4-0 hole. Alvarez’s blast off a 91 mph four-seamer, traveled 474 feet, the longest homer hit by an Astros player since Statcast began tracking distances in 2015.

"Before everyone was done high-fiving Bregman, we were doing it again with Alvarez," Astros manager AJ Hinch said.

Altuve’s homer was also off a 91 mph four-seamer, but Bregman’s was on a slider that simply fell flat. From there, Minor made a valiant recovery, retiring 10 in a row while allowing just one baserunner for the remainder of his seven-inning performance.

"The homers were something I've seen this team do," manager Chris Woodward said of the Astros. "They feed off momentum. They get one hit, and it's really hard to stop them. Obviously, after that, [Minor] settled down and that's kind of what we've been accustomed to seeing from Mike all year. He ended up getting a lot more swing and miss later in his outing, which earlier in the game, it really wasn't there."

In Minor’s estimation, his early struggles, which included yielding a leadoff homer to Yuli Gurriel in the second, could be partly attributed to not getting close calls. The lefty felt he was able to get ahead of hitters more efficiently later in the outing.

“If they take those close pitches and I don't get the calls, then they're kind of waiting for the ball to go over the plate,” Minor said. “I don't want to walk anybody. Sometimes I pitch around guys if I see someone on deck that I feel more comfortable with, but with the team they have right there, a lot of guys can put it out of the ballpark, so it's tough.”

Minor ended up outlasting Houston ace righty Justin Verlander, who yielded two runs -- solo homers by and -- over six frames.

Minor's final inning, made possible by an efficient pitch count through the first six, may have been his strongest. He struck out the side, freezing Altuve on an 86 mph changeup for a called strike three to end the frame.

"I salvaged it, for sure, at the end," Minor said. "But the third inning obviously killed me. Those guys teed off on me for a little bit."