Minor shuts down Astros to seal series win

April 4th, 2019

ARLINGTON -- This is what a No. 1 starter does. Rangers starters had a rough time the first time through the rotation, but stepped up for them on Wednesday night at Globe Life Park.

Minor pitched seven scoreless innings for the Rangers first quality start, and Texas was able to take two out of three from the Astros with a 4-0 victory. Setup reliever Shawn Kelley and closer Jose Leclerc completed the shutout.

“We had our No. 1 on the mound tonight, and he pitched like one,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “Awesome for our ballclub to see him compete and shut down their offense.”

The victory allowed the Rangers to finish 4-2 on their season-opening homestand against the Cubs and Astros, two of the last three World Series champions. The final two wins were against Houston’s aces: Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.

“When you start the season winning four of six against two teams that won the World Series, you have to feel pretty good,” Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said. “Our confidence is really high right now, so we need to keep it going into Anaheim.”

Minor’s performance came after Rangers starters had a combined 8.57 ERA through the first five games. Minor had his own issues on Opening Day, allowing six runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 12-4 loss to the Cubs. But he was in sync with catcher Jeff Mathis and in complete control on Wednesday in besting Cole.

Minor needed just 95 pitches to get through seven innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out seven. The Rangers committed a couple of errors, but Minor induced two double plays and disposed of the only two Astros who came up with a runner in scoring position.

“First inning was a little shaky, but yeah, we got in a groove,” Minor said. “Mathis had a good game plan going, and I faced these guys a lot last year, so I kind of knew what to expect. We kind of mixed it up as much as we could.”

Most notable was that Minor had 21 called strikes, the most for him in any one start since joining the Rangers last year. That may be why there was so much grumbling on the Astros’ side, as manager AJ Hinch and hitting coach Alex Cintron were ejected in the second inning by home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa.

Houston was particularly bedeviled by Minor’s fastball. He had 11 called strikes, and three whiffs on the 42 that he threw. They put eight in play, and the average exit velocity on those batted balls was a tepid 77 mph.

“His stuff was good,” Hinch said. “His ball was moving a little bit. I had a different view on my TV than I do from the side of the game. It looked like his pitches were moving. He had a good changeup. He executed a game plan that was above the zone. He has pretty good [velocity] and was in control tonight.”

Minor said the fastball was the big difference between Opening Day and beating the Astros.

“I guess the placement,” Minor said. “We went inside a lot, and once we established in, we mixed everything up. Mixed a lot of changeups and threw more curveballs than usual.”

Woodward said he is seeing the conviction of a No. 1 starter and a guy who is embracing that role from Minor. Wednesday was a pretty good test of that, and the southpaw is now 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts against the Astros since the beginning of last season.

“He has something to prove,” Woodward said. “Coming into the season, he was named Opening Day starter. It meant a lot to him. He said he has always been looked at as a No. 4 or No. 5. To be the No. 1 meant a lot to him, and you saw that tonight. I just love that everything he has done since Spring Training has been done with conviction. The ball is coming out of his hand with conviction, and as the season goes along, it’s only going to get better.”

Mazara bruises quad muscle
Outfielder Nomar Mazara is not expected to be in the starting lineup on Thursday against the Angels after sustaining a bruised left quad in the win. The injury took place during a first-inning collision with Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel while beating out an infield single. Andrus scored on the play.

Mazara stayed in the game and hit a home run in the eighth to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead, but Delino DeShields replaced him on defense in the ninth.

“I think he will be fine,” Woodward said. “I was going to give him a day off tomorrow anyway, so actually, it worked out.”

Woodward wins again
Woodward is now 2-for-2 on challenges as a Major League manager. Minor caught George Springer breaking for second base with one out in the third inning, and the Astros' outfielder was ruled safe at second ahead of first baseman Ronald Guzman’s throw. But the replay showed Springer slid off the bag while shortstop Andrus still had his tag applied, and the call was overturned.