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Smyly roughed up early, Rangers can't catch up

@Sullivan_Ranger
April 19, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Drew Smyly threw 102 pitches in 3 2/3 innings against the Astros on Friday night. The first 11 were the ones that did the most damage Consecutive home runs by Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman gave the Astros a three-run lead before Smyly could record an

ARLINGTON -- Rangers pitcher Drew Smyly threw 102 pitches in 3 2/3 innings against the Astros on Friday night. The first 11 were the ones that did the most damage

Consecutive home runs by Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman gave the Astros a three-run lead before Smyly could record an out. The Rangers never caught up in a 7-2 loss in the first of their three-game Silver Boot Series at Globe Life Park.

Danny Santana’s sixth-inning home run was the only run the Rangers could manage in seven innings against Astros ace Justin Verlander as their four-game winning streak came to an end.

Joey Gallo also had a ninth-inning home run, a monster solo shot which was his seventh of the year.

Smyly still believes he is making progress with each start after missing two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery. But he is now 0-2 with a 7.80 ERA after four starts.

“I would like the results to start coming,” Smyly said. “You play to win the game. I’m not really giving my team a great chance to win the game right now.”

Smyly’s best pitch is his high fastball, and the Astros were waiting for it from the start on Friday.

The lefty began the evening by giving up a leadoff double to George Springer on a 3-1 fastball. He also fell behind 3-1 to Altuve and threw another fastball. Altuve hit this one over the left-field wall to give the Astros a 2-0 lead. Smyly also went with a first-pitch fastball to Bregman and he hit it out to center field.

“I just think that was [the Astros’] gameplan,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He fell into the trap of using it in fastball counts, those are counts they are looking fastball. In hindsight, I was hoping he would go with some of his offspeed stuff in those counts, just because they are looking for certain pitches, and [with] fastballs they are pretty good.”

Astros manager AJ Hinch confirmed that his team was looking for fastballs from the beginning. All five hits allowed by Smyly were off the four-seam fastball. Over his first three starts, opponents were 5-for-21 off Smyly in at-bats that ended on the fastball, but were 5-for-7 on Friday night. Four of his strikeouts came on the cutter, three on the curve and only one on the four-seam fastball.

“We had a pretty good gameplan going in and I like it when we execute it as a team,” Hinch said. “We had a pretty good idea [of] what Smyly was going to do against us based on how he pitches. He threw a few more changeups the second time through and third time through because we came out so aggressive on his fastball.”

Smyly ended up striking out eight batters, marking only the second time in club history a Rangers starter has struck out eight batters in less than four innings of work. The other pitcher was Rich Harden on April 7, 2010.

“After that first inning, I tried using more offspeed and get them off-balance,” Smyly said. “I did that, I struck out eight with 11 outs. Unfortunately, it is taking me a lot of pitches to generate outs right now. Definitely positives to take out of it. I feel like I am improving every game, it’s just I am having a hard time being efficient and going deep into the game.”

Rangers starters are now 4-5 with a 5.68 ERA after 18 games. The biggest concerns are the short outings and high pitch counts being racked up in the lower end of the rotation behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.

This is the seventh time since 1988 -- when pitch counts started being tracked -- that a Rangers starter has thrown 100 or more pitches in less than four innings of work. Smyly is averaging 23.9 pitches per inning after four starts. That’s the second highest for a Rangers pitcher with at least three starts in a season. Shelby Miller, who pitches on Sunday, has the highest with 24.2 pitches per inning.

“Obviously he threw a lot more pitches, but you could see how more effective he was when he started mixing up his pitches,” Woodward said. “Eight strikeouts in 3 2/3 [innings] showed he had them off-balance, but the three runs in the first were a pretty big thing to overcome, especially with the way Verlander was throwing.”

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.