ARLINGTON -- Joey Gallo managed to overcome the Astros' defensive shift Sunday but the rest of the Rangers lineup struggled heavily against dominant Houston pitching.Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and catcher Max Stassi were enough to get the Rangers out much of the time in an 8-2 rout that clinched Houston's
ARLINGTON -- Joey Gallo managed to overcome the Astros' defensive shift Sunday but the rest of the Rangers lineup struggled heavily against dominant Houston pitching.
Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole and catcher Max Stassi were enough to get the Rangers out much of the time in an 8-2 rout that clinched Houston's third victory in the four-game, season-opening series.
Cole tallied 11 strikeouts and scattered two hits, joining fellow Astros starters Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers at 1-0.
"We get it -- they're really good," said Gallo, whose solo homer in the first off Cole was one of a few bright spots for the Rangers. "But we're confident with us, too. It was the opening series and a lot of us wanted to do more, including myself, than we should have and that's normal. We'll play them again and hopefully make our adjustments to them. That's an amazing team they've got over there. We're going to try to contend with them, though."
The Rangers were outscored 22-11 in the series after the bottom of their batting order (hitters 7-9) mustered just two hits in 38 at-bats (.053). Sunday, Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar and Drew Robinson combined to go 1-for-9 with six strikeouts. Robinson's solo homer in the eighth was the only extra-base hit from the bottom of the order over the first four games.
Manager Jeff Banister said his club got "serviceable at-bats" from the bottom half of the order this series, but it didn't get high-level production from anyone in the lineup but Elvis Andrus, who is off to a blazing start with a .538 average (7-for-13), with two doubles and two homers for a 1.548 OPS.
"We'll talk about trying to have a better plan and better idea out there, but it's still too early to panic out there," said Andrus, who banged a double into the gap in left-center in the sixth.
"You go through a little slump, it's only four games, you just have to keep swinging. It's a long season and you have to let yourself feel comfortable out there. If you feel pressure right now after four games, that's not the right thing to do. They know that. We just faced a tough-pitching team, a really good team, they're world champions. Don't panic, don't try to think too much. Relax today and get ready for tomorrow."
The Rangers' difficulties at the plate took away a workmanlike start from lefty Mike Minor, who allowed two earned runs on three hits in 4 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out five. Minor's pitch count ballooned thanks to a patient Astros lineup that kept fouling him off and going deep into counts.
"I thought it went well, I felt like my old self again," said Minor, who started his first game since 2014 with Atlanta and missed all of the 2015-16 seasons with shoulder problems. "It's something to build on. I think the strength's going to get better as the season goes on. Missed some with the locations, a little bit, but first game, I'll take it. I couldn't put a lot of guys away today, they get to two strikes and they battle and that's why my pitch count was up and I couldn't go very long … they battled, every guy, one through nine."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Astros elbow out Minor: The Rangers southpaw cruised through much of the early part of the game, retiring nine of the first 11 hitters he faced and striking out three batters in the fourth. The Astros got the best of him in the fifth thanks in large part to the placement of Stassi's left forearm, which Minor grazed with a pitch to put the leadoff man on. Derek Fisher's triple broke the ice for the Astros' offense, which scored twice in the fifth and sixth and three times in the seventh to take a 7-1 lead.
Beating the odds: Gallo, who went 0-for-4 on Thursday when the Astros deployed a four-man outfield (Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was moved to left field), beat the same alignment in the first inning when he sent an opposite-field homer over Bregman's head to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. That was his first homer of the season.
"It was a great job by him beating the shift," Banister said. "I don't think you can put a fifth outfielder over the fence."
GARDEWINE TO MINORS
The Rangers announced after Sunday's game that reliever Nick Gardewine will be optioned to Triple-A Round Rock on Monday to make room for starting pitcher Bartolo Colon, who will face the A's that night. Gardewine tossed two innings Sunday, allowing one earned run on three hits and striking out three.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Altuve's seventh-inning single came on a pitch that was 2.06 feet from the center of the plate -- the farthest outside that a right-handed batter has gotten a hit on since the beginning of last season. Altuve reached out and poked the Alex Claudio pitch into right field.
Astros first baseman Marwin Gonzalez was ejected by first-base umpire Jerry Meals in the middle of the eighth inning. Gonzalez, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, went out to play defense prior to the bottom of the eighth and was ejected by Meals after some sort of confrontation.
"What Jerry told me on the field was they didn't like his behavior on the field," Hinch said. "I don't know if they were arguing over Mexican restaurants in Houston or the best shopping experience, but they didn't agree."
Colon will make his 538th Major League start and first as a Ranger on Monday, as the burly 44-year-old will face the A's on the road. Colon was signed last week after spending Spring Training with the Rangers, but his future with the club is uncertain beyond Monday. The four-game series begins at 9:05 p.m. CT.
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Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com based in Arlington.